Josh Gordon is going to be back this week for the first time since 2014 — and heavily utilized if Hugh Jackson is to be believed.
Gordon was a unicorn player so fantasy players are eager to see if he can recapture his 2013 form. That’s right: he last excelled in the NFL four seasons ago. Then, he led the league in receiving yards (1,646, despite being suspended the first two games) and receiving yards per game (117.6) and posted three consecutive 150-plus-yard games, something only done six other times in NFL history and only by Gordon since 1995.
Then, the next season, he was suspended the first 10 games and played five games totaling just 303 receiving yards and no TDs, catching 24 of 47 targets. And that was after an eight-catch, 120-yard debut in 2014. Bottom line, in Gordon’s last three games, he has nine catches for 108 yards.
Now, three years later, he’s back. We just went through this with Martavis Bryant, who people expected to pick up where he left off prior to his year-long suspension in 2016. Instead, Bryant has been one of fantasy’s biggest disappointments, even being a healthy scratch one week. In his 10 games, he’s averaged 2.7 catches for 34.6 yards and 0.2 TDs. He’s fantasy WR58 this year in standard leagues. That’s far removed from his most-efficient season in 2014 when Bryant had 549 yards and eight TDs on just 26 catches. In 2015, his yards per target and scoring rate precipitously declined.
Gordon was by comparison a truly transcendent player. And I’d say that this makes him worthy of betting on for the balance of the fantasy season if not for the fact that Gordon after a 10-game layoff in 2014 wasn’t able to remotely recapture the form from just one year earlier.
Now, gamers racing to the waiver wire to play Gordon in a pivotal Week 13 expect him to recapture the form of four years earlier. A reasonable argument is that Gordon by his own admission wasn’t free from his addiction demons until now. He even said he was excelling while using substances in 2013, which is incredible. Implicit in this is that his prior comeback wasn’t legitimate while this one is. But how much of this are we supposed to believe from a guy who has thus far in his career rarely proven to be believable.
And of course compounding Gordon’s problem is playing on a team with the worst quarterback in football in DeShone Kizer (five TDs, 14 picks) on the worst offense in football, too.
Here are skill players I could find who were suspended for at least one year for substance violations, some of whom never made it back to the NFL: Stanley Wilson, Chuck Muncie, Tony Collins, Tim Worley, Chuck Levy, R.J. Soward, Onterrio Smith, Ricky Williams, Justin Blackmon, Koren Robinson, Dominic Rhodes and Bryant.
Williams three years after his suspension ended returned to form, for one season at age 32. No one else did anything of note upon returning. Yes, you can argue none of these players did that much before being suspended, either. But Collins had a 1000-yard, 10-TD season in 1983, making the Pro Bowl. Onterrio Smith of Whizzinator fame looked like he had the makings of a feature back his first two seasons prior to his suspension.
The reason why suspensions are unique is that you are not at all involved in anything with any team. You’re just a guy on the street. Injured players are being trained and coached to some extent. They are in the building.
BOTTOM LINE: Gordon had a chance to come back once and recapture his form and did not. I hope he does but the odds are decidedly against it. He will have to not only excel through the shear force of whatever remains of his gifts but drag a terrible quarterback with him for whatever production he is able to muster. I can’t see ranking Gordon in the top 50 for the rest of this season and would be shocked if he ever again emerged as a fantasy force. But I’ve never wanted to be more wrong about anything in this business and so will be rooting against this prediction.