Thoughts on Josh Gordon to Cleveland

Hint: Hakeem Nicks earned average to below average marks at his pre-draft workouts. Those that relied on what they saw in games weren’t as disappointed. A lesson to consider when judging Josh Gordon. Photo by Romec1

As I mentioned last week, I’ll have more analysis on Gordon’s game within the next 7-10 days. But I have a little time to share some thoughts on the Browns drafting Gordon with a second-round pick and the general tenor of reactions I have seen regarding the former Baylor wide receiver.

“Not enough to see”

He might not have made good choices off the field, but don’t let anyone tell you there was not enough “tape” to evaluate Gordon. They simply couldn’t find enough to watch him or they don’t know how to watch in-depth with an entire season that was available. Gordon as a sophomore and Gordon in 2012 could be vastly different players due to time away from the game. However, Muhammad Ali had some years away from boxing and Ricky Williams had seasons away from the and outside of the worry that physical skills eroded, we had seen enough to know what to expect.

It may have been just one season, but Josh Gordon (and for that matter, Bryce Brown) have a season’s worth of play documented in games. If you’re an analyst, writer, radio host, I’d like to suggest you be honest with your readers and say, “I didn’t have enough material at my disposal to evaluate Gordon,” rather than, “Gordon didn’t play enough,” or “there wasn’t enough game footage to appropriately evaluate him.” There’s a difference. Your readers and peers will respect you more for the transparency.

The Fit in Cleveland

In theory, Gordon is an excellent choice for the Browns, which drafted University of South Florida receiver Carlton Mitchell a few years ago, but haven’t seen a positive return on its investment. Mitchell and Gordon have a similiar physical skill set: big, strong, and fast. Paired with a strong-armed quarterback that is capable of down field accuracy, a receiver with this type of athleticism should become a greater asset than he was as a target to Colt McCoy.

Cleveland invested heavily in its run game when it acquired Trent Richardson in April. The one thing I will be showing you in future posts with Gordon is his skill as a run blocker. Although he didn’t have perfect technique, he did four things well that many “good” college run blockers don’t show as consistently as Gordon did as a sophomore:

  • Consistent effort: Rarely do I see “star” college receivers make a consistent effort as run blockers. Gordon was an exception. He was always the first to deliver a hit to his opponent and with every opportunity I saw, he delivered a follow-up punch or attacked a second defender in the area. This is one of the shining examples why it showed on the field that Gordon enjoys football.
  • Tracking his opponent: Gordon demonstrated a knack for gauging the correct angle to square his body to his opponent. While a lack of effort is often contributing factor behind a lot of receivers unable to track a defender, it’s only half the equation.
  • Delivering a punch: The technique wasn’t always perfect, but he used both hands, delivered an uppercut motion into the pads, and demonstrated the strength to knock defenders backwards. Sometimes, he overextended his arms, but I believe his knack for being in the right position to make the play was far more important than over extending his arms after the initial punch.
  • Moving his feet: Gordon not only had a strong enough punch to move a defender off his mark, but the receiver also repeatedly displayed the ability to drive a defender backwards, sometimes by several yards.

When a player asked to catch passes and score touchdowns also demonstrates this kind of passion for hitting and finding a secondary target within the same play that will help his teammates, that’s an excellent positive. In Cleveland, he and Greg Little will be valued for their ability run block in the flats. If Little gives as much effort as a run blocker as Gordon has shown, they’ll be a dangerous duo that will help Trent Richardson break long runs.

Unlike Mitchell, Gordon has significantly better hands at this stage of his career than the third-year Brown. What I haven’t seen enough to tell you is how good Gordon is in tight coverage or making a play on the ball while taking a hard shot. If he demonstrates that kind of skill, he’s in the territory of prospects that have elite receiver upside. This is something to watch for.

Even if he doesn’t possess a high level of skill against contact, Gordon has more speed than Greg Little and he’ll be the deep threat in this offense with Little playing more of the Anquan Boldin role and an after the catch-red zone presence. This leads into another topic…


Gordon ran a 4.52-40 in at his Pro Day. Without any context other than the stopwatch, that’s a solid, but not great time for a big receiver. A lot of writers I’ve read this week have commented on this time with that brief, sweeping analysis.

The best analysis I’ve seen came from either Cecil Lammey or Sigmund Bloom when they reported from the sources they either read or spoke with that Gordon injured his quad while running that 40-yard dash. Subtract anywhere from .05 – .15 seconds from that 4.52-time and it is probably a more accurate representation of what I saw from Gordon on the football field as a sophomore. And I think that range of adjustment is a conservative one.

Numbers have great value, but some measurements require context. Brandon Lloyd ran a 4.62-40 at his NFL Combine. Does Brandon Lloyd run like a 4.72-second receiver to you? Lloyd said he had the flu after that time was posted. I’m sure many viewed Lloyd’s statement as “spin.” However, if anyone watched Lloyd at Illinois, they’d understand that his explantion was a legitimate excuse.

Hakeem Nicks ran a slower than expected 40-time due to some workout injuries and there was a lot of talk from writers and analysts that he was out of shape, maybe lazy, and not a great pick. Nicks has gotten hurt a fair bit in his career, but usually plays through these injuries and plays well. He’s also an excellent deep threat. Having an open mind to a player’s explanation to at least weigh available evidence is vital.

Fantasy Football Outlook

Gordon is worth a 1st or 2nd-round pick if the assessment solely based on his physical and developing technical skills. How to adjust that based on his off-field history is based on your judgment of human beings and which scenario that you’ll regret more: Taking a chance on Gordon and he fails or passing Gordon by and he has wild success.

As for questions on how much to bid, a place to begin is to look at first- or second-round picks in your rookie drafts from years past and determine how much you’d bid on these players if healthy and available.

For last week’s analysis on Josh Gordon, go here.

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