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East Coast Offense: Is Brandon Weeden Ideal for Josh Gordon?

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Is Brandon Weeden the Ideal Quarterback for Josh Gordon?

I've heard some speculation on Josh Gordon's ranking for next season, including suggestions he could be No. 2 among wide receivers after only Calvin Johnson. The reasoning is if Gordon is this good with Brandon Weeden, he'd be even better with a half-decent quarterback.

But I doubt it ever gets better for Gordon than Weeden, who locks in on him almost exclusively and targets him downfield. In his last two games (the majority of which were with Weeden), Gordon has caught 24 of his 32 targets for 498 yards and three scores.

Weeden is the perfect combination of mistake-prone (allowing the other team to score, requiring the Browns to air it out), strong-armed and usually unable or disinclined to go through his progressions and spread the ball around to the open man. Having Greg Little - one of the league's worst starting receivers opposite him - the small and slow Davone Bess in the slot and the ancient and plodding Willis McGahee in the backfield makes Gordon the only game in town to an extent matched by few players in the league. While the situation could get better (if the Browns defense collapsed, for example), it's more likely to get worse. A better quarterback who gets the ball to other, better receivers and a more productive running game could take heat off Gordon, but they'd be likely to hurt his fantasy numbers.

In fact, when you consider the best real-life quarterbacks in the league, they don't always produce top fantasy options. Drew Brees has Jimmy Graham this year and in 2011, but for most of Brees' career, including 2012, the Saints top target wasn't a top-10 receiver. Aaron Rodgers (while healthy) had Jordy Nelson this year (in large part due to injuries to other players), but his top target was usually Greg Jennings who was top-10, but not top-five. (Nelson was top-5 in 2011 in a freakishly efficient year where he scored 15 TDs on only 98 targets).

Of course, Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison and now Demaryius Thomas in the top-five, and Tom Brady's had Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Randy Moss. And the greatest fantasy receiver ever, Jerry Rice, was the product of Joe Montana and Steve Young, two all-time greats in real life. But Carl Pickens was a monster with Jeff Blake, Moss had huge years with Randall Cunningham and Daunte Culpepper, Calvin Johnson has Matt Stafford, A.J. Green has Andy Dalton, Andre Johnson had Matt Schaub, Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad (both of whom led the NFL in receiving yards and TDs within the last decade) had Jake Delhomme.

While an elite quarterback boosts a receiver's efficiency, allowing him to do more with fewer targets, and also increases scoring opportunities for the team, a mediocre one is more likely to lock in on his top guy, giving him more total opportunities and a higher percentage of the team's red-zone targets.

Here are the leaders in targets among wideouts this year and how their teams' real-life quarterbacks stack up:

WR Targets QB Adjusted Net YPA ANYPA Rank
Calvin Johnson 133 Matthew Stafford 7 6
Pierre Garcon 132 Robert Griffin 5.4 21
A.J. Green 130 Andy Dalton 5.9 14
Andre Johnson 128 Matt Schaub/Case Keenum 5.3 22
Brandon Marshall 124 Jay Cutler/Josh McCown 7 7
Antonio Brown 124 Ben Roethlisberger 6.2 11
Vincent Jackson 121 Josh Freeman/Mike Glennon 5.3 23
Alshon Jeffery 118 Jay Cutler/Josh McCown 7 7
Cecil Shorts 117 Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne 4.1 31
Dez Bryant 114 Tony Romo 6.6 9
Josh Gordon 113 Brandon Weeden/Jason Campbell/Brian Hoyer 4.9 28
Victor Cruz 109 Eli Manning 4.9 29

Among the 12 most highly targeted receivers*, none is in a top-five adjusted net YPA passing offense, i.e., an offense that finishes in the top-five most yards per pass play when you include interceptions and sacks. The average rank in ANYPA of these passing offenses is 17th.

* I initially thought I might be leaving out Jimmy Graham, but he has only 106 targets.

If targets are the most important factor in predicting wide receiver fantasy production, looking for the receivers in the best passing offenses isn't necessarily the surest bet.

That said, there's a strong case for Gordon going anywhere between No. 2 and No. 7 next year, simply because he's that good, and his opportunities won't diminish too much no matter what the Browns offense looks like. But I don't think pointing to the likely loss of Brandon Weeden advances it.

You Were Right All Along

Seeing C.J. Spiller display his usual quickness and explosion against the Falcons, it was hard not to think of what might have been, especially had you drafted him early in the first round. Fred Jackson's presence would still have been a problem, but no more so than Joique Bell would be for a healthy Reggie Bush. Likewise, seeing Montee Ball run roughshod over the Chiefs while Knowshon Moreno struggled, it was hard not to wonder what Ball's numbers might have been were he able to hold onto the ball and pass protect a little better. On the one hand, it's all the more frustrating to have invested in them because you deserved better. On the other, it's good to be reminded you were not insane for doing so, that your thought process was sound, even if it panned out poorly.

The Prospect of Being Cheated Out of One's Rightful Destiny

When Josh Gordon left Sunday's game after a helmet-to-helmet hit, I was livid. How could two of my teams miss the playoffs because some jackass went head-hunting?

When I saw him come back into the game, it was like a death sentence had been overturned, like I had been cured of some seemingly terminal disease. These feelings of relief persisted even though Gordon did almost nothing for most of the next quarter. It dawned on me the despair I felt at losing Gordon didn't merely have to do with missing his output and possibly a spot in the playoffs. It was the prospect of losing unjustly, losing when maybe I should have won that was so painful. That I was being cheated out of my rightful destiny. I don't know if I'm the only one who cares about this distinction (or whether I'm idiotic for doing so), but I feel a lot better losing on the merits than taking a bad beat.

Incidentally, after Gordon caught the 95-yard touchdown pass, it was hard to be upset about anything - a feeling that lasted until the Titans coughed up the cover and the Vikings temporarily seemed to on one of the most bizarre penalties in NFL history.

Persistence Pays Off

After Week 6, I wrote about my sorry Yahoo! Friends and Family team that was 4-2 even though it had scored the fewest points in the league. (Scroll to the second section). That was before I lost the No. 2 overall pick, Doug Martin, for the year. To recap, my top-5 picks in this 14-team league were Martin, Lamar Miller, Roddy White, Torrey Smith and Ahmad Bradshaw. My quarterback (Round 7) was Matt Ryan. My tight end, who I dropped, was Coby Fleener. My only good player was sixth rounder Josh Gordon.

Fast forward to Week 13, and I still had the fewest points in the league, but sat at 6-6, needing to win and have three other teams lose to make the playoffs - which is exactly what happened. One could argue I lucked into the spot because my points total is so low (it's no longer the lowest after I had the high score for Week 13), but I also had horrible luck, losing three of my top five picks (Martin, White and Bradshaw) for most of the year. I only made it because I persisted in making moves and agonizing over lineups the entire way - even after I lost Martin for good and fell to 5-6 with the league's lowest total.

If you wonder why certain owners always seem to do well in your leagues, even though - like everyone else - they suffer their share of bad injury luck, part of it might be a superior ability to pick players, but I'd bet mostly it's about keeping their focus and making a persistent effort all year. It's easy to get lazy about making waiver moves (I usually do) when you need to win three out of four and get help to make the playoffs, but if you do your best in enough leagues, those runs will happen. And once you're in, you can always ride a Josh Gordon (or last year a Dez Bryant) to a title. (It's easier to be that way if you cap your involvement to 3-4 leagues, of course, something I haven't been able to do in recent seasons).

Week 13 Observations

The downgrade from Christian Ponder to Matt Cassel is so slight, it's an upgrade.

There isn't room for both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to be top-5 receivers unless they have a top-3 quarterback. Next year, it'll be interesting to see where Jay Cutler goes (assuming he's still the Bears QB).

When Cordarrelle Patterson scored his rushing touchdown, I excoriated myself for having pulled him for Roddy White at the 11th hour. "You idiot! You know better than to make last minute moves." Of course, it turned out the right call, especially given Patterson getting a rushing TD was especially unlikely.

NFL teams constantly make adjustments. For that reason it wasn't surprising the Raiders had trouble running against the Cowboys who were without linebacker Sean Lee. Dallas made a point of stacking the box, and it worked.

But Adrian Peterson's matchup against the Bears' abysmal run defense (35 carries, 211 yards, 6.0 YPC) was as advertised. And this despite Chicago trying to stack the box against him. That's one of the things that makes analyzing the game tough. Even if you strip away the injuries and luck, it's hard to know whether and to what extent teams will adjust to prior performances and how effective those adjustments will be.

With Roddy White apparently healthy again, and the bad part of their schedule (Panthers, Bucs, Seahawks) behind him, Matt Ryan could be a difference-maker in the fantasy playoffs. He draws the Packers at home and then the Redskins in Weeks 14 and 15. (If you make it to the finals, you'll probably need to look elsewhere as Ryan faces the 49ers in Week 16).

Alex Smith played a good game, but was hurt by drops and poor coaching decisions, in particular a punt on 4th-and-2 from the Denver 42, down seven halfway through the third quarter. The Chiefs gave Peyton Manning the ball back at the 8-yard line (a 34-yard net), and two plays later, the Broncos had the ball at Kansas City's 15. (Denver subsequently scored to go up 14, and the Chiefs never caught up).

What was especially annoying about watching that sequence is Phil Simms and Jim Nance justified the punt, saying that if they failed to get the first down, the Broncos would have great field position, and Simms added that the 4th-and-2 was a "long" two. At no point did Simms and Nance explore what good could come of going for it, for example, the Chiefs scoring a touchdown on that drive and tying the game. Moreover, once the move backfired horribly, there was no mention that Andy Reid should have in fact gone for it, no reflection on their prior opinion that led to a terrible result.

Finally, it would be one thing if Simms and Nance had a coherent - even if wrongheaded - view of the game wherein it was crucial when playing Manning to get him the ball deep in his own territory, but they lacked even that. During the closing minute of the first half, Simms and Nance were terrified on the Chiefs' behalf that Manning would mount a final drive even though Denver got the ball back with 25 seconds left on its own 12-yard line. The Broncos handed it to Knowshon Moreno and ran out the clock. The only unifying principle I can distill from their commentary is when facing a great player, you should be very afraid. Afraid he'll get the ball in good field position if you don't punt and afraid he'll get it back with any time on the clock.

The Giants game was largely boring except for the end when the referees told Mike Shanahan they didn't need to measure on third and short because the Redskins had gotten a first down, so offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan called a downfield throw to Fred Davis - which he dropped. To Shanahan's surprise, that brought up 4th-and-1, and the Redskins called another successful play, a pass to Pierre Garcon well beyond the first-down marker - which he fumbled. If the argument is they would have called better plays had they known the correct down and distance, it's a poor one. Even though the refs made an egregious mistake, the Redskins' play calling was great. They lost because their players didn't hold onto the ball.

Nick Foles had another three TDs and no picks against a good defense this time. The Eagles were smart to attack the middle of the field with their tight ends, the one position Arizona simply refuses to cover. I'm still not a believer in Foles the player, but maybe this system is so good he can play at a high level in it.

Rashard Mendenhall and LeSean McCoy had identical rushing numbers Sunday (18 for 76 and 19 for 79, respectively).

The Lions-Packers game was one of the most lopsided in NFL history. Consider the Lions turned it over four times, one of which was returned for a score, missed a chip-shot field-goal and still won by 30.

I think it's a good time to fade the Seahawks in San Francisco this week and back the Saints at home against Carolina.

The Jets should outsource the selection of their next quarterback. It doesn't matter to whom - a random-number generator, Cheech and Chong, one of the walkers in the "Walking Dead" - any would be an improvement.

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