Without Josh Gordon, Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman Could Become Fantasy Football Values
Four years ago, the world really got to know Josh Gordon, the football player. He had his breakout season, catching 87 of 159 targets for 1,646 yards and 9 scores, finishing as fantasy football's top standard-scoring wide receiver.
And he did this while playing 14 of 16 games.
Since then, everything's changed. Later in the summer -- after that Hulk-like season -- Gordon was arrested for driving while impaired. At first, his suspension was for a full season, but that was reduced to 10 games given a new NFL Drug Policy. His short-lived campaign wasn't anything special, though, and he actually missed the Browns' final game for -- wait for it -- violating team rules.
That was in December of 2014. Since, Gordon hasn't played a snap after multiple substance abuse-related violations.
And it doesn't look like things are changing. With optimism surrounding a potential return to the field this season, Gordon was denied reinstatement today. It's a shame on all levels, but as a fantasy analyst (or player), the question becomes, What the hell does this mean for Corey Coleman and newcomer Kenny Britt?
Let's dig in.
A Less Pass-Friendly Approach?
At a team level, the Browns were pret-tay bad last season, which forced them to play in a lot of negative game scripts. And when teams are trailing and trying to come back, they toss the rock around a whole lot.
Despite mediocre quarterback play (albeit, better-than-you-realize play, as Cody Kessler wasn't bad at all last year), the Browns were fifth in the league in pass attempt-to-rush attempt ratio last season. That'll happen when your average drive starts with a 5.7-point deficit.
The Browns didn't run a whole lot of plays, though, because they weren't efficient on offense -- per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, they were a bottom-10 squad offensively last season. Only four teams ran fewer plays ( Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami), so even though the Browns threw the ball a lot more than they ran it, their raw pass attempt total ranked just 19th in football.
That's a big deal, because wide receivers -- remember, that's what we're focusing on today -- need volume to thrive in fantasy football.
The Browns should be better this year. Given their offensive line changes this offseason and a hopefully-improved defense, that fifth-ranked pass attempt-to-rush attempt ratio should fall. They'll run the ball more.
But if they're more efficient, that means they could also run more plays. So what could the target distribution look like for Coleman and Britt now that Gordon is out of the picture?
For Britt and Coleman, there's not that much in the way of looks. Here's how the distribution of targets went down among relevant Cleveland pass-catchers last season:
|Player||Games||Targets||Market Share||Market Share/Game|
Fortunately for projection purposes, the offense looks different, but it's mostly from the perspective of players replacing players, not players being added to the equation. Terrelle Pryor is gone, but Kenny Britt is added. Gary Barnidge was released, but the team drafted David Njoku (and has Seth DeValve). And the backfield will look very similar, too.
What that means is that Coleman and Britt will essentially split duties as the top-end options in the offense. And with a rookie and unproven players playing tight end, it wouldn't be shocking at all to see Britt and Coleman combine for 45% to 50% of the team's targets barring health. After all, Coleman (who was a rookie last season) and Pryor, prorated, would've tallied about 45% of the team's targets a season ago.
Coleman's projected to be the team's top receiver, which means it's very possible for him to see 25% of the team's looks in 2017. If Britt's slightly below that at, say, 22.5%, then we're looking at two players with a lot of volume potential.
At those market shares, here's how many targets we could expect Coleman and Britt to see next season given certain passing attempt thresholds. Keep in mind, the Browns threw the ball 567 times last year.
|500 Att.||525 Att.||550 Att.||575 Att.||600 Att.|
As mentioned above, while Cleveland's pass-to-run ratio may drop this season, there's a chance for more plays. That 567 number may not be hit, but even at 525 or 550 attempts, Britt and Coleman are sitting pretty from a volume standpoint. Only 30 wide receivers, for some perspective, hit 110 targets last year.
The elephant in the room here, though, is touchdown upside. The Browns threw just 15 passing touchdowns last year, which was only better than the Rams. Pryor, while hauling in 140 targets in 2016, scored just 4 touchdowns. Considering his production, the difference between the number of touchdowns he scored versus what he should've scored -- through regression analysis -- was the largest discrepancy in football.
But even with four or five touchdowns each, it's hard to not see Coleman and Britt as values in most redraft leagues this year, at least at their current costs -- FantasyFootballCalculator.com has them at WR39 and WR49, respectively. Over the last six years, 177 wide receivers have finished a season with 110 or more targets, a number easily attainable by both pass-catchers, as shown above. Among those players, only one failed to score 145 PPR points, which would've ranked roughly 45th at wide receiver last year. In other words, if things hold, they'll be drafted at their probable floor.
Given the Gordon suspension, their costs staying the same is a big if. But given these wideouts are playing for Cleveland, it also might to be.