Instant Analysis: Josh Gordon Reinstated
The NFL announced the reinstatement of New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon this evening – here are a few thoughts on his role in the 2019 Patriots’ offense and some of the dynasty implications.
Current ADP Trend
Visualizations courtesy of DLF Data Analytics
Gordon has had a checkered history with substance abuse, and he’s had multiple suspensions and conditional reinstatements. The latest such ban was handed down by the NFL in December 2018 for violating terms of a previous conditional reinstatement, and was deemed to have been indefinite – which explains at least partially why his value dropped so significantly in January 2019.
When on the field, Gordon is a talented player (having previously finished as the top-scoring WR in 2013) and was recently valued as high as 55th overall by DLF ADP (WR24). I would expect his value to return to similar peaks in market estimation – the risk of a suspension has always been a part of his value equation and that hasn’t changed too much with his latest suspension.
Role in the 2019 Patriots Offense
The headline news of the Patriots’ off-season was the retirement of star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Much has been made about Gronkowski’s decline in ability, and he was very clearly less efficient than he was in past years (a career-low RACR of 0.75 where he previously ranged between 0.85-1.05), but more important for projecting our 2019 offense is realizing that Gronkowski still commanded a significant share of targets and air yards even with Gordon on the field.
With Gronkowski (12.4 average depth of target) and Gordon (13.6 adot) occupying similar depths of the field, it’s clear that the Patriots will be distributing their volume differently in 2019 – and Gordon has a very good opportunity to take on a larger share as an experienced veteran in the WR group.
We should temper our expectations, because the Patriots have been adding players to their receiving group.
The most obvious is rookie N’Keal Harry, a draft analytics favorite who was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Harry is a big-bodied receiver who specializes at contested catches and downfield routes, so it is very possible that he carves out a consistent role in the offense.
The Patriots also always seem to find lower-draft-capital receivers who stand out in the preseason, and this year’s hype favorite is Jakobi Meyers, who had a big game last week.
An optimistic projection would have Gordon taking on an expanded role in target share and air yards, which could put him into high WR2 and even low WR1 production. A more cautious projection would have Gordon reprise similar opportunity shares as last year, with the balance being distributed among the new additions as well as Julian Edelman and James White. This placed Gordon as a low-end WR3 producer (37th by PPG). I would expect a result somewhere in between these and think Gordon could produce somewhere in the low WR2 range this year.
Gordon’s long suspension history suggests that he should be treated with a very low expectation for any stability– I would not foresee him to hold much in the way of long-term value going forward. His contract expires in 2020, and even if he re-signs in New England, Tom Brady is already 42 years old.
A trade window has opened on Gordon, which has been stagnant all off-season. If you’ve been holding him and are looking to rebuild, now’s the time to start reaching out to contenders looking to make a push. He could be the difference-maker, and I don’t think he will have lost much from his December 2018 valuation.
Thoughts on Everyone Else
Julian Edelman, WR
Surface-level analysis might suggest that Gordon’s return hurts Edelman, but Edelman maintained his role (7.7 adot) and volume (team-leading target share and overall weighted opportunity rating) when all three of Gronkowski/Edelman/Gordon were on the field. I think adding Gordon back to the roster improves the Patriots offense, and can only improve Edelman’s efficiency. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a huge bump up, given that the bulk of Edelman’s value is tied to his target volume, but he’s still a quality win-now piece.
N’Keal Harry, WR
Expectations are high for the first-round draft pick, but thus far he’s had a rather disappointing camp and is currently dealing with some nagging injuries. Gordon’s ability to step in and take on a perimeter receiver role suggests that Harry will be allowed to take his time to recover and learn the offense, which will reduce his early opportunities and fantasy impact. There is still a perimeter role that Harry can fill opposite Gordon, and as with Edelman, all three players will be more efficient and effective the better the offense is. I would still consider him a first-round rookie pick, but exactly how and when his first-year production will come is something to keep an eye on.
Jakobi Meyers, WR
Meyers has been the preseason standout, having led the team in training camp targets and catches. It seems clear that he’s earned at minimum the WR4 role in this offense and he’s clicked whenever/wherever he’s been on the field. With Gordon’s return, Meyers’ 2019 opportunities will be more closely tied to Harry’s health and development than before. He’s definitely a priority waiver claim (if your league somehow hasn’t done preseason waivers yet), and he’s a nice add-on to any larger deal, but I would not be going out to specifically buy or sell Meyers at this point.
Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Philip Dorsett, Dontrelle Inman and Demaryius Thomas, WRs
Gordon’s return puts these players on the roster bubble, vying for one place on the roster. Berrios has been widely targeted thus far in training camp, but at least part of that was inherited with the slot receiver role while Edelman has been out with a thumb injury. He’s only having an okay camp and has struggled with separation from better cornerbacks. Harris has had positive buzz this off-season, while Dorsett’s experience in the Patriots offense (and with Brady) might give him an advantage. It’s anyone’s guess as to which of these three make the team, and I would consider none of them priority waiver claims at this point.
It’ll be difficult for Dontrelle Inman to make the roster ahead of any of the above, and Demaryius Thomas is still looking likely to begin the season on the PUP list.
James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and Damien Harris, RBs
The Patriots have long used their running backs in the passing game, and Gordon’s return is unlikely to change the volume or efficiency of their targets.
Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Eric Saubert and Lance Kendricks, TEs
Adding Gordon reduces the share of red-zone and jump ball targets that will be distributed amongst their tight ends overall, but the options there have not been spectacular. Ben Watson has been reliable early in camp, but with Watson’s suspension, LaCosse and Saubert look to be the primary receiving options at TE. Kendricks is only a blocker.