Wide receiver Josh Gordon crashed the fantasy football party last year with the Cleveland Browns, leading the league in receiving yards and landing a spot on the NFL First-Team All-Pro roster. But will his big break be too much for him to live up to this season?
Recent history suggests, yes.
Last season, Gordon reeled in the 10th-most receiving yards of all-time with 1,646 yards and found the end zone nine times during his sophomore effort. Not only that, but as a player that could be picked up off waivers in almost every league, he helped propel many fantasy owners to the winners’ circle.
His 2013 performance is most comparable to Victor Cruz‘s 2011 performance with the New York Giants. Much like Gordon, Cruz shocked the NFL; recording 1536 yards and 9 touchdowns with an 18.7 yards/rec (Gordon’s average was 18.9 yards). Unlike Gordon though, we know what his succeeding season’s results.
In 2012, though he made the Pro Bowl, Cruz saw a decrease in his production. He recorded 400 less yards, and 40 less fantasy points than he did when he jumped on everyone’s radar in 2011. The comparison of these two players, of course, is because of how one season they were both considered a “nobody,” and the next they were saviors for many fantasy teams.
Because Cruz is the only player of recent memory to have a breakout season such as Gordon’s, one cannot point to say that Gordon will have a lesser season. However, there are also proven wide receivers that can attest that a down year is in store for the breakout wideout. Below is a table of the last wide receivers’ performances since 2004 to surpass 1,400 yards receiving in a season and their change in receiving production the following season.
As seen in the table above, only two wide receivers were able to top their previous season (Calvin Johnson in 2012 and Larry Fitzgerald in 2008) – and only Demaryius Thomas in 2013 and Andre Johnson in 2009 able to come within 50 yards of their preceding season. It goes to show that even battle-tested wide receivers can have one great season, and then the next season, defenses lock down on them more than before. It’s especially discouraging to see that a consistent player like Larry Fitzgerald can drop almost 800 yards from one season to the next as he did from 2011 to 2012.
Of course, receiving yards are not the only factor in any fantasy player’s output. But seeing as the average drop for a wide receiver surpassing the 1,400 yard milestone is 284 yards, it’s disconcerting knowing that your starting wide receiver could lose over 28 points from his previous season. Will that still be enough for Gordon to do well? Of course.
Any player than can snag over a 1,000 yards receiving and tack on a few touchdowns is worthy of starting. But where he should be drafted in the coming months is another question entirely. He won’t be worth the WR1 spot that many are pegging him to be. He’ll be a solid WR2 or flex option each week, and if the Browns can get their offense rolling with Ben Tate and possibly Johnny Manziel, there’s great upside for Gordon to prove me wrong.
Bottom line: drafting Gordon is wise, but don’t give up any more than a third or fourth round pick for him.