The NFL granted a conditional reinstatement to New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon on Friday evening, and he’ll be eligible to return for the fourth preseason game.
Provided he manages to meet the league’s requirements, the once-dynamic wideout will be catching passes from Tom Brady in Week 1. From a fantasy football angle, how should gamers proceed?
Gordon has not been meaningful in fantasy football since 2013, and he has not played more than 22 total games in the last three seasons. His struggles with substance abuse are well-chronicled, and there’s little good in rehashing all of that side of his outlook. Anyone with a hint of fantasy experience understands by now that Gordon can be banished at any moment, pretty much for any slip-up. Treat him as a bonus and not a centerpiece.
The Patriots have a cavernous hole to fill in the passing game with Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan no longer on the roster. The star tight end hung up his cleats, presumably for good. That move alone helps Gordon ascend from a borderline flex play to a potential No. 2 receiver — if all goes perfectly as planned. But with Gordon, counting on such an outcome is a poor decision.
He struggled to generate yardage after the catch last year, ranking 41st in this area, and he posted an abysmal catch rate of 57.7 percent (80th in the NFL). Among qualifying players, Gordon landed just 76.1 percent of his “catchable” targets, which was good for 62nd. He and Brady never really gelled. He dropped 8.5 percent of his looks, good for 15th. This helps illustrate the volatility of being a deep-ball receiver. Perhaps the most alarming stat, Gordon ranked 96th in average separation from the assigned defender.
The former Cleveland Brown lives and dies by the home run, an attribute that makes him streaky in fantasy football. It’s only natural to question what kind of deep game a 42-year-old Brady will be able to muster in 2019. Gordon’s average air yards per target last season was a respectable 7.0, rating 37th in the league. The likelihood of this significantly improving is low. He did, however, post the ninth-best overall yards per target, a stat that argues with his modest YAC stat.
The volume is almost certainly poised to improve, and Gordon should be more comfortable in this complex system. He still has to contend with Julian Edelman, Brady’s preferred target and a reception hog.
Gordon has a chance to do some real damage on play-action passing. New England’s offensive line should remain strong, despite a first-time NFL left tackle protecting Brady’s blindside. Look for the offense to scheme its way into favorable situations for the wideout.
Fantasy football outlook
It’s dubious to expect Gordon will outperform Edelman in PPR scoring, and one could argue in standard scoring, as well. Fantasy football drafters should treat him as a No. 3 and be fully prepared to be without Gordon at any given moment.
If your investment returns a No. 2 receiver, consider it gravy. Consider him in Round 7 or 8 of fantasy drafts, if risk isn’t a deterrent for your style of building a roster, and he has peak value in non-PPR scoring.
If nothing else, Gordon’s return bumps Brady a few spots up the pecking order among his backup peers at quarterback.