It's a sad, sad day for fantasy and NFL fans alike when the prospect of Chad Henne starting a game gets you excited.
It's even sadder when you realize the excitement stems from Mr. Henne starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team responsible for the lowest amount of points put on any NFL scoreboard in Week 1. To put that in perspective, 16 MLB teams put up more points than the Jaguars on Sunday (2). Literally more than half of the baseball teams which played on Sunday outscored them. Let that sink in...
But yet, here I am, and I'm excited.
I'm getting giddy just thinking about the numbers Cecil Shorts will be able to put up this week without Justin Blackmon, and I'm getting really excited thinking about the numbers Justin Blackmon will be able to put up when he returns Week 5.
Admittedly the rest of the offense looked awful in Week 1, including Maurice Jones-Drew who celebrated his return to the NFL by rushing for 45 yards on 15 carries, which gave him a NEP/P score of -0.16, right in line with Jacksonville's average from Week 1. Essentially, each time Jones-Drew touched the ball, he was forfeiting -.16 points compared to an average runner in that situation. Additionally Gabbert earned a -25.12 Passing NEP, meaning an “average” quarterback would translate to about a 25-point swing on the final scoreboard for the Jags. There's a lot to not like when you look at this team, and I get that. They aren't sexy, and there's seemingly no hope.
Background on 2012: The Pre-Henne Era
Lets dig deeper. Looking at numbers from both Gabbert and Henne last year, it's easy to see who helped fantasy players the most. Henne actually completed a lower percentage of his passes, but he averaged more yards per target and yards per game. His higher interception rate also looks bad on paper, but as a fantasy player it doesn't bother me. I compare this situation to the Cardinals with John Skelton and Kevin Kolb at quarterback in 2011 & 2012: you have your choice between a gunslinger (Skelton/Henne) and a poor game manager (Kolb/Gabbert). The “gunslingers” have no issues throwing into coverage and as a result have more yards and turnovers. They like throwing to “their” guys no matter the cost.
In 2012 Henne's pass NEP per play was -0.11, while Gabbert's was a marginally worse -0.12, and Henne's pass success rate was 41.96 percent to Gabbert's 46.67 percent. They both were losing points for their team compared to average passers, and the majority of their passes didn't contribute positively towards their expected point totals, or how many points they were adding for the Jaguars throughout the season. It's just another on-paper indication that there was no discernible difference between the two - they were both dreadful. The real difference, though, is quite visible to degenerates like me.
The Jaguars started with a heavy dose of Gabbert in 2012, as he attempted the majority of the passes from Week 1 through Week 10, though many games used an amalgamation of Gabbert and Henne. During this time frame, Shorts averaged a respectable 6.14 targets per game (T/G) and converted those into 12.37 PPR fantasy points points per game (FPP/G). During this same time frame Justin Blackmon averaged 6.25 T/G, but only managed to convert those targets into 6.44 FP/G. It was clear to anyone watching (there weren't many of us) that Gabbert didn't have what it took to foster many reliable fantasy commodities.
In the games Gabbert played in, Shorts was a top end WR3 while Blackmon was barely rosterable. Many were surprised by the effectiveness of Shorts, and he was a popular waiver add after the first and third weeks of the season. Some lost the faith while he put up middling numbers, but those who kept the faith were rewarded as he became a more than capable receiver in the middle of the season. With each passing week peoples confidence grew until Week 10 struck.
In a 27-10 loss to the Colts Shorts put up a more than respectable performance of six receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown, the highlight of his unfinished season. The catalyst for this performance was a heavy dose of Henne who went 10/16 for 121 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Heading into Week 11 there were mixed feelings about Shorts' value with the formidable Texans defense on the horizon.
Ultimately, Henne's performance in Week 11 cemented him as the starter for the rest of the season as he went 16/33 for 354 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions and led the Jags to their highest point total on the season (37). Through Week 10, Blackmon was an afterthought in the offense, but he exploded onto the fantasy landscape while catching seven passes for 236 yards and one TD. Shorts also had a respectable line of 3/81/1. Suddenly there was talk of the possibility of two fantasy relevant pass catchers in Jacksonville. To put it bluntly, we had no idea that a storm was coming.
Background on 2012: The Post-Gabbert Era
Between Weeks 10-17, while Henne was commanding the offense, Shorts averaged 10.17 T/G and 18.05 FP/G, an improvement of 65% to his targets and 46% to his fantasy output. Keep in mind, however, that Shorts wasn't a staple in the offense until part way through Gabbert's time. While Shorts was securing himself as a must start for playoff-bound fantasy teams Blackmon was making a not-so-quiet case for himself as a bonafide WR2. Blackmon managed to average 9.88 T/G and 16.13 FP/G, an overall improvement of 58% to his targets per game, and a staggering 150% improvement to his fantasy points per game. Perhaps this is an improving rookie, but it could just as easily be a result of quarterback play.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Shorts missed Weeks 14 and 17 with concussions, but the upside here is undeniable. We here at numberFire currently have Shorts pegged for a 3.7/61/.42 stat line on Sunday, but I believe he can be much better than that. After receiving 10 targets last week, I expect another double-digit target outing including 5-6 receptions, 90 yards and a score.
If Henne is behind center for more than just Week 2, it's time to buy these Jacksonville receivers. It's extremely hard to believe, I get that, but the Jags supported two top-15 receivers on a FP/G basis once Henne took over last year. It's not a stretch to think both Justin and Cecil can be fantasy starters again this season.