Boom! Now things are getting exciting right? If you read the first six parts of this series and felt like you were just getting a never-ending stream of Hyundai Sonatas, fret no longer because I’m now going to tout an actual trendy sleeper pick.
To get you quickly up to speed, here is my draft plan through the first six installments of the series with Josh Gordon’s name also added to the list.
As I’ve explained in other parts of this series, I’m approaching this in much the same way that I would approach an actual draft. I usually look to the middle and late rounds first and see what assets I can pick up there, before I look at the early rounds. Most people spend all summer thinking about their first round pick. I spend 20 or 30 minutes on draft night thinking about my first round pick. I really don’t care about it that much.
You’ll notice from the above plan that I have five wide receivers slotted before I’ve thought about running back at all. You’ll also note that with the exception of the uber-cheap Briant Hartline, every one of my WRs goes over 210 pounds. That’s because even if I’m not drafting Demaryius/Dez/Julio at the top of the draft, I want guys that are of prototypical WR size. All of the WRs on my draft plan except Hartline are big guys. No need to expound on this point further, let’s move on to the case for Josh Gordon.
If you did a simple google search for “Josh Gordon fantasy sleeper” I’m sure you would get a good number of results. I’m not going to pretend that’s not problematic, because it is. Every article written about Gordon is going to increase his price, which is going to lower the odds that you get a bargain. It doesn’t do you any good to pick the year’s breakout WR that vaults into the top 24 wide receivers if you end up also paying top 24 WR prices for him at draft time. The draft is about acquiring equity in players, where equity is defined as their performance less the cost to acquire them.
But Gordon is still going to make it onto my list for the following reasons:
- He’s cheap enough that I don’t want to pass on him at WR35 and then watch him turn in a top 12 season, which I think he is capable of doing.
- Even though I have a natural affinity for the discounted production WRs like Colston and Hartline, I don’t want only safe options on my team. I want some upside too. Think of Gordon as part of a portfolio that contains a mix of value and growth stocks.
- Gordon is the best WR on his team. That’s one level of safety we can look for when drafting a player.
- Gordon turned in a top-35 receiving yards season at age 21. He also had a 700/7 season at Baylor at age 19. He’s been ahead of the curve for most of his football playing career.
- About 75% of Gordon’s comparables saw increased production in the year after they were similar to Gordon. If you add that point to #4 above and then draft Gordon at WR35, you should be good to go.
- Not only do I expect Gordon to improve as a player, I expect his entire situation including offense and QB to improve as well.
- Because of Gordon’s size, his other physical measurables (40 yard dash around 4.5 and a 36 inch vertical) give him an elite Physical Score.
A good amount of words have been written on Gordon, both here and on other sites. For that reason I’m going to spend the rest of this post explaining how Gordon fits into my value outlook even though he’s unlikely to be an overlooked name like the other guys on my list.
If you offered me a chance to acquire a player for basically a fair price based on the prior year’s production, but that player had a range of outcomes that could be wildly better than the prior year outcome, I would take it. In fact I will be taking it with Gordon. You’re basically paying market for Gordon’s 2012 production when you take him at the mid-30s among WRs. Normally you might look at that and say that the player might be just as likely to underpeform their draft spot as they would be to overperform it. But if you adjust the odds by making them conditional upon using that pick on a 22 year old player, and also conditional upon using that pick on a player with an elite Physical Score, then the odds change. Now you have an asymmetric bet, which is what we’re always looking to make in fantasy football. We want to make a bet where the upside heavily outweighs the downside. You don’t have a guarantee that Josh Gordon turns in a 12 touchdown season, but it’s in the range of outcomes. Here’s a visual representation of the range of outcomes for Gordon based on the Similarity Score App:
The plot above shows the fantasy points/game year over year change for Gordon’s comparables.
Here are Gordon’s comparables from the Similarity Score App:
It’s a pretty impressive list. The thing that strikes me about the list is that it includes guys that are typically tough to acquire in fantasy drafts. They represent the scarce commodity of the oversized #1 WR. There are a few busts on there, but in the NFL you’re just never going to find a group of comps that is 100% without busts.
Drafting Gordon isn’t a “can’t miss” endeavor. Fantasy football drafters are the most wildly optimistic bunch of people you’ll ever meet and usually that optimism is misplaced. As an example of this, last year the Torrey Smith hype-train was just as out of control as the Josh Gordon hype-train is this year. But even while Smith didn’t turn in a top 12 season like a lot of people thought he would at draft time, he was still the kind of upside play that you should make. Like Gordon, Smith offered safety in the form of his 2011 production and you had to pay fair market value for that production, but he had upside on top of that. Gordon could end up in a similar situation. It’s possible that you draft Gordon anywhere from WR30-WR35 and then he might finish the season in a similar range. You’ll probably be pretty disappointed, but you shouldn’t be. Just because a player doesn’t return excess value doesn’t mean that it wasn’t one of the potential outcomes.
I have a feeling we’re in for a summer of Josh Gordon articles and that he could end up being drafted somewhere around WR27 or so. That’s about where Hakeem Nicks went following his rookie year when he was coming off of a season that was pretty similar to Gordon. When Gordon’s price gets to that level it will be important to re-evaluate, but for now I’m willing to roll the dice on him at his current price. He’s going to be the upside part of my player portfolio that includes a mix of safe/boring guys and also high upside guys.