I wrote this article literally hours before news of Josh Gordon’s possible suspension broke. Oh what could’ve been…
Coming off a magnificent breakout campaign in 2013, Josh Gordon will face new challenges in 2014 (truly more than I could’ve known). This challenge starts with losing offensive guru Rob Chudzinski, who was replaced by Kyle Shanahan. To get a feel for how Shanahan will use Gordon, let’s take a look at how the “X” wide receivers have performed in his offense.
Kyle Shanahan’s Historical “X” Receivers
While some of these seasons can be predictive of the type of role Josh Gordon will have, others are simply insignificant. When looking at Shanahan’s stint in Houston, we can get a good feel for how Gordon will be used, as Andre Johnson is a very comparable player. Both Gordon and Johnson match up at 6’3”, 230 lbs. Both of these seasons remain the only years Johnson has led the league in receiving yards.
Conversely Shanahan’s first two seasons in Washington do not tell us a whole lot. Although he had a very productive season, Santana Moss was 31 years old in 2010 and this was his last season with over 100 targets. It’s hardly fair to compare him to 23-year-old megastud Josh Gordon.
With Santana Moss banged up in 2011, a 31-year-old Jabar Gaffney led the Redskins in receiving. Although he had a pretty productive year, this was Gaffney’s last full season in the NFL. Jabar Gaffney wasn’t comparable to Gordon when he was 23, never mind when he’s 31.
Although some may disagree, I’m willing to call Pierre Garcon a comparable player for the purpose of this study. Gordon is the more physically dominant player but for the purposes of this assessment, Garcon is a worthy inclusion. In 2012, a foot issue that took place in the Redskins’ first game hampered Garcon for the entire season – so that season will be omitted. We will however include his healthy 2013 season.
To find relevant numbers for Gordon we will take an average of the 2008, 2009, and 2013 seasons. These are the only Shanahan seasons that reflect a healthy wide receiver with comparable talent to Gordon.
Here are the averages of those three seasons:
As all three of these seasons resulted in Shanahan’s “X” receiver catching over 100 passes – it’s obvious that Shanahan loves getting the ball in the hands of his top receiver. I don’t see that changing with Josh Gordon. He’ll be targeted more frequently close to the line of scrimmage – meaning his insane 18.9 yards per reception is likely to fall.
My concern for Gordon starts and ends with touchdowns. It’s apparent that Shanahan does not rely on his “X” receiver in the red-zone. Although this is the trend, I find it hard to see Shanahan not transforming his offensive to fit the strengths of his personnel. Considering Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are the Browns big, reliable weapons, I expect Shanahan to do his best target them in the red-zone.
The next question you must be wondering is: “Were those historical seasons heavily impacted by quarterback play?” The 2008 Texans were quarterbacked by a combination of Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels. That didn’t stop Andre from leading the league in receiving yards – two years in a row.
Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins helped Pierre Garcon lead the league in receptions last year, despite a lousy season for the Redskins. Even when Santana Moss had his last 1,000-yard season he was going to battle with an over-the-hill Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman.
While these quarterbacks aren’t atrocious, they’re hardly guys who “make” their wide receivers. It’s clear that Shanahan helps his “X” receiver “get his” no matter who is under center. Whether it’s Johnny Manziel or Brian Hoyer, I have little concern that Shanahan will put the ball in Gordon hands.
Outlook For 2014
It’s clear that Josh Gordon is a special talent that can perform with literally anyone at quarterback (It can’t be worse than Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden). It’s also clear that Kyle Shanahan has a knack for helping his “X” receiver put up big fantasy numbers. There should’ve been very few concerns with Josh Gordon entering the 2014 season… Turns out his likely huge year will be spoiled by a season-long ban. Oh what could’ve been…