NFL training camps have just begun but the wide receiver pool for fantasy drafts just got a lot more interesting with Tuesday’s announcement that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has been reinstated on a conditional basis.
Gordon, who last played in a game on Dec. 21, 2014, missed all of the 2015 season for multiple violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. He was previously suspended for two games in 2013 and 10 games in ’14 for earlier violations.
Under the terms of his conditional reinstatement, Gordon will miss the first four games of the upcoming season, but will be eligible to participate in Browns training camp, which opens on Thursday, and play in the preseason, provided some additional requirements are met.
Assuming Gordon is welcomed back by the Browns, he immediately becomes the No. 1 WR on a roster that lists five rookies at the position and the leading returnee (Taylor Gabriel) had 28 catches last season.
Gordon, on the other hand, has 161 catches for 2,754 yards and 14 touchdowns in 35 career games since entering the league after being a second round pick of the Browns in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. After a productive rookie season (50-805-5), Gordon exploded in 2013, leading the league in receiving with 1,646 yards on 87 catches (NFL-best 18.9 ypc) to go along with nine touchdowns even though he was suspended for the first two games. He was named to the Pro Bowl and a first-team All-Pro.
Not surprisingly, Gordon also was the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver that season, something that most expected him to repeat or at least come close to entering the 2014 season. But that was before the 10-game suspension came, which limited him to just five games. He only managed 24 grabs for 303 yards and no touchdowns in limited action.
So now that Gordon has reentered the conversation, where should he fall in the preseason fantasy ranks? If all things were equal, pretty darn high considering this is a guy who posted the first back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in NFL history when he did so in 2013.
However, not all things are created equal. First off, Gordon hasn’t played in more than a year. While he’s still just 25 years old he’s got some rust he will have to knock off and that probably can’t be fully accomplished during training camp and the preseason.
Second, let’s not forget the four games he will miss, meaning at most he will be able to help your fantasy team in 12 games, but not until October. When it comes to suspended players and their perceived draft values, Gordon is not in the same category as a Tom Brady, who also will miss four games but will still likely be drafted along the lines of a top-10 player at his position.
There’s also the matter of the Browns’ offense. Cleveland ranked 21st in the NFL last season in passing and is counting on either Robert Griffin III or Josh McCown to be the starting quarterback. The former is a disgraced No. 2 overall pick and the latter is a journeyman who has played for three teams since 2013. The Browns’ offense leaves a lot to be desired so it’s no sure thing that Gordon will be able to pick up where he left off, especially in comparison to his 2013 breakout. Although to be fair, Cleveland’s quarterbacks that season were Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, so maybe that’s not as much of a factor.
So put it all together and what do you have? A very appealing risk-reward fantasy option whose name will most definitely be called come draft day. Before Gordon’s reinstatement, the presumed No. 1 WR on Cleveland’s roster was first-round pick Corey Coleman, who at best was considered a WR3 and probably fell somewhere between No. 30-40 at the position.
While Gordon’s upside is considerably higher than Coleman’s, if for any reason he has a more of a track record, it would be foolish to draft him along the lines of what he did in 2013. Three years is a long time in the NFL and while he finally has a path to return to the field, there’s no guarantee he will be the same type of impact player when he does.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a flyer on Gordon in your fantasy draft, but be sure to temper your expectations and get your clear-cut starters first. There’s no reason to pin your championship hopes on a player who has already disappointed fantasy owners on more than one occasion.