NEP Studs and Duds Through Week 12: Josh Gordon is Elite

Josh Gordon is a stud.

"In order to survive, got to learn to live with regrets."- Jay-Z, Regrets

That lyric from Jay-Z's classic Reasonable Doubt album sums up the way you felt if you did not have Josh Gordon in your daily fantasy lineups last week. Or if you took him out of your lineup due to the wind. Silly you. Wind is no match for Josh Gordon. Josh Gordon laughs at wind, to the tune of 14 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown.

Note before you get started: For a description of Net Expected Points (NEP), check out our glossary.

NEP Studs

Josh Gordon (0.86 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 13th of 70 Qualifying Wide Receivers)

Let's get this right out in the open from the jump: Gordon is a WR1. Only one wide receiver has scored more standard fantasy points per game this season: Calvin Johnson. Only three wideouts average more than Gordon's 10.88 targets per game.

Gordon has tallied 40.34 Target Net Expected Points on his 98 targets, a top-10 number among receivers. The Browns Passing Net Expected Points on the season is a negative 42.89. The fact that Gordon has done so well in this metric despite being a part of the Browns otherwise-anemic passing game is amazing, and should give you an idea of just how good he really is.

Gordon looks to be quarterback proof. He has posted 100-yard games and caught touchdowns with each of the three Browns quarterbacks this season.

He's managed to rank second in standard points per game despite scoring only five touchdowns. How? Well, he averages a ridiculous 109.8 yards per game. Even if you remove his 237-yard performance last week and chalk it up to extended garbage time, he would average 93.8 yards per game, which would still be second in the league amongst qualifying wideouts.

Gordon has great tools: size (6'4", 225 pounds), speed (4.4 40-yard dash), and some serious leaping ability. He has improved his route running drastically since coming into the NFL, and is now a threat all over the field in every situation. Even though he has five touchdowns on the season, he has potential for multiple touchdowns every game given his physical tools, wealth of targets, and the Browns lack of a running game.

Looking forward, Gordon has a mouth-watering matchup with the Jaguars this week, who rank 30th in Passing Net Expected Points Allowed, adjusted for strength of schedule. But he then faces off against Aqib Talib and the third-ranked Patriots.

Should you bench Gordon against Talib?

I may be in the minority, but I would not, despite Bill Belichick's pedigree for eliminating a team's top option. Talib may not be fully healthy, and even if he is, Gordon is one of the few receivers with the physical talent necessary to get the better of the corner. It may be the one week where Gordon is not as likely to return value given his price in daily leagues (assuming it goes up even more after the Jaguars game), but I would not take him out of re-draft lineups

Gordon finishes the season with the Bears (9th), Jets (21st), and Steelers (20th). The Jets and Steelers, in particular, have burnable top corners (Antonio Cromartie and Ike Taylor, respectively) who Gordon should be able to roast.

Gordon is an elite WR1, folks. We have only seven wide receivers projected to score more points than him for the rest of the season, and it's close enough that Gordon has at least somewhat of a shot to outscore every wide receiver from here on out. He should not be on your bench. Ever.

Pierre Thomas (0.03 Rushing NEP, Ranked 17th of 57 Qualifying Running Backs)

Earlier this season, I discussed how the Saints feature different players every week, making everyone but Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham shaky fantasy options at best. Since then, Pierre Thomas has also worked his way into a reliable fantasy option. He has remained a constant in the Saints offense because he has simply been too good to take off the field.

Thomas has been good running the ball this season, but what makes him a great fantasy option is his production in the receiving game. He is third amongst all running backs in receptions with 56, and ranks seventh in Reception NEP per Target. Thomas's skills in the screen game are second-to-none, and he has forced 20 missed tackles on his receptions.

Because of Thomas's steady involvement in the passing game, he averages 15.72 touches per game. In the Saints' seven most recent games, that number spikes to 17.85. Darren Sproles has been banged up recently, but even with a healthy Sproles, Thomas has earned his 15 touches per game.

We quietly have Thomas pegged as the 15th-best running back for the rest of the season. Because he is not a true 20-plus touch workhorse, he may not have RB1 upside in standard leagues, but is squarely on the RB2 radar. He is already an RB1 in PPR, ranking 10th amongst all running backs in full point per reception leagues. Given his efficiency and involvement in the passing game, he also has an extremely high floor. Start him confidently, even in tough matchups.

NEP Duds

Dwayne Bowe (0.59 Reception NEP/Target, Ranked 51st of 70 Qualifying Wide Receivers)

Dwayne Bowe has had two decent fantasy games in a row, following up a 4-catch, 57-yard, 1-touchdown day two weeks ago with a 5-catch, 51-yard, 1-touchdown game last week. Is Bowe finally turning into the every week WR2 people had in mind when they drafted him? Should daily fantasy degenerates be tempted by his cheap price? Let's take a look.

Before I continue, here is a definition of a term that will be relevant to Bowe:

Confirmation bias: A tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.

If you thought Bowe was going to be great in 2013, beware of getting excited about his last two games and falling victim to Confirmation Bias. The fact that Bowe had a fourth-round average draft position (ADP) entering this season means many owners had high hopes for him. The thought was that Andy Reid and Alex Smith were Bowe's best coach and quarterback combination yet. His ADP shows that a lot of owners had hopes of Bowe reverting to his 2010-2011 production, where he finished second and 20th among fantasy receivers.

Net Expected Points metrics show that Bowe is doing even worse this season than he did last season, where he slipped to 45th amongst wide receivers in total standard fantasy points while missing three games. Take a look at Bowe's decline since 2010 below:

YearRec NEP/TargetRank (Min 50 Targets)

Bowe has not surpassed 67 yards in a game yet this season. In last week's shootout against the Chargers, where 79 total points were scored, he only managed 51 yards and a touchdown on a paltry six targets. The week before against Denver, Bowe reached pay-dirt as well, but tallied an extremely inefficient 57 yards on 14 targets.

Bowe has scored four touchdowns in 11 games this season, which comes out to 0.36 per game. All in all, when starting Bowe in 2013, you've gotten a ceiling of 67 yards and a 36 percent chance for a touchdown. Not good.

What about PPR leagues, you ask? Bowe has been held below five receptions in eight of 11 games. While his usage may pick up because the Chiefs defense has fallen off a bit and is banged up, it may not mean a whole lot given how ineffective he has been.

Much of aforementioned lack of production is not Bowe's fault. Quarterback Alex Smith has been very ineffective, and is unwilling to throw the ball down field to Bowe if he is even the slightest bit covered, even though Bowe has the skills to make those plays. When Smith does go deep, it is often to Donnie Avery.

The Chiefs' next opponent is the Broncos, who rank 14th in Net Expected Points per pass allowed, adjusted for strength of schedule. They go on to face the Redskins (22nd), Raiders (23rd), Colts (29nd), and Chargers (31st). The schedule could not be better, but given Bowe's current situation, he is nothing more than a touchdown-dependent WR3.

Ben Tate (-0.12 Rushing NEP, Ranked 46th of 57 Qualifying Running Backs)

When star tailback Arian Foster went on the IR, Ben Tate finally got his chance to explode. It hasn't happened. Since Week 6, Tate has averaged over four yards per carry in a game just once.

Now he's playing through broken ribs, and as C.J. Spiller and Roddy White have taught us this season, attempting to gut out an injury can severely hinder production.

Tate hit rock bottom last week with a seven-carry, one-yard output versus a Jaguars defense that ranks 21st in Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points allowed. Meanwhile, backup Dennis Johnson managed a much more respectable 74 yards on 13 carries. With Johnson showing promise in limited work this season, there is no telling how the workload will be split going forward, despite the coaching staff's claims that Tate will remain the number one back.

There is also no telling if Tate will even remain healthy enough to play. Injuries are becoming a trend for him, as he also missed five games last season. Further putting a damper on his outlook is the fact that the Texans are no longer a run-first red zone team. Only 11 percent of their touchdowns in the red zone have come on the ground this season, the second-lowest figure in the entire league. Tate has only one rushing touchdown on 129 carries.

We have Tate ranked as the 32nd running back for the rest of the season. I wouldn't trust him as anything more than a flex regardless of matchup unless/until he shows he is completely over his injury and has retained clear-cut lead back duties.