By Eric Margolin
I want to preface this whole post by saying this is all conditioned on Josh Gordon staying clean and playing multiple full NFL seasons, something he has not shown he can do in the past. Furthermore, this is not a commentary on the NFL’s drug policy. Whether or not I think players should be allowed to smoke marijuana to ease the pain from playing a sport, where 300 pound men run at you at full speed, is irrelevant. Now back to the point.
Coming out of college, Josh Gordon wasn’t drafted in the NFL draft because of his off-field issues. Instead, he was picked by the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 supplemental draft. As he transitioned to the NFL, scouts had many problems with his style of play. Teams cited his lack of speed, quickness, and polished route running, as some of the top on-field reasons to avoid drafting him. However, Gordon’s measurables were off the charts. At 6’ 3’, 225 lbs he was the same size as All-Pro receiver Demaryius Thomas, his vertical jump and hand size were the same as future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald’s, and his broad jump, vertical jump, and 40-yard dash time were similar to those of Jerry Rice. Gordon was an athletic freak heading to the NFL.
In his first season, this insane athleticism translated to on the field success. In his first season Gordon had the third most receiving yards, fourth most receptions, and second most touchdowns of all rookie wide receivers. However, Gordon’s breakout season came in 2013. Gordon led the league in receiving yards, ranked in the top fifteen in touchdowns, and ranked number one in YPC (for qualifying receivers), despite being suspended for two games. For his efforts Gordon was selected to the Pro-Bowl and named first team All-Pro. In his third year Gordon’s season was again marred by another suspension, only allowing him to play five games, catching no touchdowns and only netting 303 yards. Since then, Gordon hasn’t played an NFL game.
When he’s on the field, Gordon is one of the best pass catchers to play the game. For his tenure with the Browns, Gordon was the only bright spot on the team. Despite catching passes from six different quarterbacks (the best of whom was Brian Hoyer, a perennial backup) in three years, he continued to produce at the highest level. He gained 200 yards in consecutive games with Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball. BRANDON WEEDEN! He was matched up against some of the top cornerbacks in the league on a week to week basis, and burned every one. In his record breaking 2013 season, he had less than fifty receiving yards only once. In Jerry Rice’s best season (1995) he had three games where he didn’t hit fifty yards (with Steve Young throwing the ball I might add). Gordon has shown he can produce without any other weapons on a team, a skill very few star players have.
I want to end with a definition of what makes a great wide receiver. I’ve boiled it down to five categories: measurables, on-field success, ability to overcome bad circumstances, winning games, and ability to stay on the field. I hope I’ve shown that Josh Gordon easily checks off the first three categories. However, when he plays the Browns have gone an abysmal 10-25. This is the biggest knock against Gordon. I could try and argue that it’s not his fault the Browns are always bad, but great players find ways to win games. The final knock against Gordon is his inability to stay on the field. He has played a total of thirty-five NFL games since he was drafted in 2012 due to multiple suspensions for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. In 20 seasons Jerry Rice missed a total of 17 regular season games, a total Gordon surpassed by the end of his third season.
Josh Gordon was reinstated earlier this month, and will be allowed to play again in Week 13. Not much has changed in Cleveland since he last suited up for the Browns in December 2014. The Browns are still bad, still searching for franchise quarterback, and will most likely finish with a losing record for the tenth consecutive year. The only question left in Cleveland is this:“Can Josh Gordon live up to his potential?”
Image via Cleveland.com