How Valuable is Jordan Cameron?

Is Jordan Cameron still locked-in as a top-five tight end in fantasy?

There are times during the fantasy football season where statistics and metrics contradict what you feel is right. With our metrics at numberFire, we occasionally run into projections that stick out to us and peak our curiousity. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was discussing Chris Johnson's outlook on Twitter. I was commenting that his upcoming schedule looked very easy, with his worst matchup (to me) being against Denver in Week 14. However, our Editor-In-Chief, JJ Zachariason, pointed out that some of the teams actually ranked better than expected in our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP statistic.

In this circumstance, even though my gut was telling me that these were all good matchups for CJ?K, the metrics told another story.

In fantasy football, it’s nearly impossible to predict what each week will have in store. That’s why writers and analysts spend so much time working through statistics. Metrics can give us a new perspective that we could never have arrived at on our own. When we run into those circumstances, it's an invitation to dig deeper. It's an invitation to ask questions, which are so vital to the fantasy football industry. It's often from these statistical explorations that we find a more clear perspective on a player or a team.

In a recent exploration of my own, I took a hard look at Jordan Cameron. It turns out that his remaining value might not be as clear as we once thought it was.

The Late-Round Tight End Darling

Before the 2013 season, Jordan Cameron was absent from a large majority of fantasy football conversations. Playing behind Benjamin Watson, Cameron saw no more than seven targets in a single game before this season began. Soon after the end of the 2012 season, Watson agreed to a three year deal with the New Orleans Saints, and it became clear that Jordan Cameron had a lot of potential in 2013. We even talked about it here at numberFire.

Cameron has not disappointed his owners this year, as he's notched top-12 finishes in all but two games (Weeks 5 and 9). He is currently a premiere fantasy commodity and is on a very short list of tight ends, ranked only behind Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. At least, that’s what the consensus opinion is.

But, in this case, is the consensus opinion accurate?

Cameron's 2013 Campaign So Far

Cameron's been very efficient in 2013. He currently ranks in the top-five among tight ends with more than 20 receptions in all of our numberFire Net Expected Points metrics, including Reception NEP, Target NEP, and Reception NEP/Target. This makes a lot of sense, as Cameron has been consistent despite the constant carousel at quarterback in Cleveland.

That being said, when we look at Reception Success Rate among tight ends, Cameron is ranked 20th. Reception Success Rate is the percentage of a player’s receptions that contribute positively to their Reception NEP. This speaks to the fact that Cameron’s production (and Reception NEP) are built on significant plays (such as receiving touchdowns). It should be noted that Julius Thomas is also ranked relatively low in this category.

This shouldn’t scare owners much, but it does reflect the fact that Cameron has the fourth-most touchdowns among tight ends, and is often relied on in fantasy by big plays. He currently has six touchdowns in 2013, three of which came in Week 3. Since that explosion, Cameron has two touchdowns and hasn’t had more than 81 yards in a single contest.

His hot start to this season is still carrying him in a lot of rankings. Don’t get me wrong here, Cameron is incredibly talented, but lately, we’re not seeing the same tight end that we saw at the beginning of the season.

Through the first four weeks of 2013, the Cleveland tight end was averaging 7.5 receptions and 10.75 targets per game. Since Week 5, Cameron has only averaged 4 receptions and 5.8 targets per game. The drop in usage can be concerning as it does limit Cameron’s ceiling, but this, in no way, means that he’s useless. As many owners know, he has still produced on a weekly basis (outside of Week 9), and the tight end position is inherently inconsistent.

But let's look forward, as past production won’t matter once the fantasy playoffs are upon us.

The Next Six Weeks

A quick look at numberFire’s rest of season projections reveal that Cameron is slated to be the sixth-best tight over the final six weeks of the seas. While this surely isn’t damning to Cameron owners, it’s strange that a player that is believed to be, at the very least, in the top five at his position, could be outside of this group for the remainder of the season.

With Jason Campbell taking over quarterback duties in Cleveland, this offense should see an overall uptick in efficiency, if only for the fact that Brandon Weeden will be on the sideline. numberFire’s team statistics support this claim, as Cleveland’s Adjusted Passing NEP increased dramatically over their last two games. After spending the entire season below zero (this is bad), this metric is actually in positive territory now (this is good).

Clearly, Campbell is an upgrade at quarterback, but unfortunately, Campbell is targeting other receivers significantly more than he is targeting Cameron. In fact, in Week 8, Cameron was only targeted four times (fewest in 2013), and in Week 9, he was the fourth-most targeted receiving option, behind Josh Gordon, Chris Ogbonnaya, and...wait for it…Greg Little. This could become a bigger issue if Campbell continues to look elsewhere on passing plays.

The good news here is that Cleveland’s remaining schedule isn’t terrible. They only have two matchups against teams that in rank in the top 10 against the pass. If Campbell continues to play at his current level, we could still see a few good games out of Cameron.

However, It Might be Time to Move On

I think the disconnect between public opinion and numberFire’s rest of season projections can be attributed to the fact that Cameron has been slightly pedestrian over the last five weeks. While we’ve only seen two full games with Jason Campbell at the helm, what we have seen is not ideal for Cameron owners.

I would be somewhat nervous of him repeating his Week 9 performance (one reception, four yards) at some point during the fantasy playoffs. With trade deadlines quickly approaching, I would look to trade Cameron away for an upgrade at another position (like running back or wide receiver), while either streaming the tight end position or dropping down a tier to someone like, say, Martellus Bennett

Some of this comes down to a decision between trusting the math or seeking internal comfort. Keeping a name brand player is a very comfortable thing to do. However, putting an emphasis on comfort above all else will lead to subpar decision making.

If anything, I wanted to shed some light on Cameron and simply show that his value is not as clear as it might have been at the beginning of the season. You might not want to hear this, but there is risk with Cameron moving forward. Depending on your situation, it may be the best course of action for you to move on.