Is Josh Gordon Better Than Calvin Johnson?

Josh Gordon's really, really good.

When you think of Cleveland, you think of three things: LeBron James, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and this video.

Hey, it’s not horrible. King James is the best basketball player of his era, and Bone Thugs have dropped some serious rhymes through the years. And that video is hilarious.

But maybe – just maybe – we’re close to adding something new to the city’s association. There’s a chance that their young, sometimes misbehaved wide receiver, Josh Gordon, will soon be the most important thing to the city of Cleveland. Perhaps he’ll be the one who makes Clevelanders forget about LeBron James’ abrupt departure.

Gordon’s Ridiculous Metrics

The casual NFL fan more than likely didn’t know about Josh Gordon before he debuted for the Browns, as he was a product of the NFL’s Supplementary Draft in 2012. And even if a fan knew Gordon entering the league, it may have been due to his off-the-field antics rather than his actual production.

Nevertheless, Gordon debuted for Cleveland in 2012, and finished the season with 805 yards and five scores on 50 receptions. He was quarterback Brandon Weeden’s deep ball specialist, a guy fantasy owners hoped would catch a few passes, with one of them being a long bomb.

From an advanced metrics standpoint, Gordon’s Reception Net Expected Points (number of points added on receptions only) ranked 43rd out of 84 wide receivers with 50 or more targets in 2012, and his Target NEP (points added on all targets) 34th among the same group.

They weren’t bad numbers at all considering he was a rookie wide receiver on a Brandon Weeden-led team. And when you consider how much a bad quarterback can impact efficiency, it’s rather impressive that Gordon ranked so high as a first-year pass-catcher.

Of the wide receivers who finished ahead of him in Reception NEP (42 of them), only seven played on a team with an Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (passing efficiency, adjusted for strength of schedule) total that was below expectation. In other words, over 83% of the leaders in Reception NEP last year were catching passes from at least an average quarterback. Josh Gordon was one of the seven who was playing with a Matt Flynn-level passer, for the record.

And then, well, this season happened. Gordon was suspended for the first two games (remember, he’s had issues off the field), so he played in just 14 contests in 2013. That didn’t stop him from leading the league by a pretty decent margin in receiving yards, totaling the third-most by a first- or second-year receiver in league history.

And by no surprise, his Net Expected Points numbers were just as good. Among wideouts with 50 or more targets, Gordon ranked second in Reception NEP, fourth in Target NEP and 13th in Reception NEP per target.

Again, like his rookie season, he accomplished this with pedestrian quarterback play. The Browns were the 10th-worst passing team in the league last season according to our numbers, and quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden put together Passing NEP totals that were worse than players like Mike Glennon and Case Keenum.

Gordon’s most impressive ranking was within the Target NEP category. If you think of it logically, Target NEP tells us how many points a player is adding on all targets, meaning catch rates, incomplete passes and interceptions can go against a receiver. Compare that to Reception NEP, which only looks at receptions.

So with Target NEP, wide receivers with top-notch quarterbacks will be slightly favored because those quarterbacks won’t be turning the ball over a whole lot, and will, hopefully, help get the wide receiver a high catch rate (receptions/targets).

But as I noted, Josh Gordon’s quarterbacks were terrible. In fact, take a look at how his quarterbacks’ play – his team’s passing rank – stacked up against other players in the top 25 in Target NEP this past season:

Wide ReceiverTarget NEPTeam Passing Rank
Anquan Boldin88.7610th
Demaryius Thomas83.021st
DeSean Jackson76.879th
Josh Gordon70.4323rd
Antonio Brown70.158th
Eric Decker67.191st
Alshon Jeffery60.327th
Jordy Nelson60.1314th
Marques Colston59.212nd
Keenan Allen59.093rd
Calvin Johnson56.0312th
Brandon Marshall54.327th
Dez Bryant52.4415th
Riley Cooper46.329th
T.Y. Hilton45.8018th
Julian Edelman43.956th
Doug Baldwin42.875th
Kenny Stills42.772nd
Jerricho Cotchery40.458th
Marvin Jones40.0311th
Eddie Royal39.863rd
Golden Tate39.575th
Wes Welker39.011st
Roddy White37.904th
Kendall Wright35.1213th

Gordon is the only player who cracked the top 25 at wide receiver in Target NEP on a team that ranked worse than 18th in pass efficiency in 2013. And Josh Gordon finished fourth!

To me, it's pretty clear that Gordon was the best receiver in the league during his second year.

Gordon vs. Megatron

The question now becomes, “How great can Josh Gordon be?”

What better way to find out than to compare him to today’s great wide receiver, Calvin Johnson?

When I went into doing this research of comparing Megatron to Josh Gordon, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew a couple of things though. I knew that Calvin Johnson, like Gordon, didn’t really break out until his second season. And I also knew that Calvin Johnson, like Gordon, lacked quarterback support over his first two years.

That being said, I didn’t necessarily expect to see what I saw: Josh Gordon’s first two seasons have been better in every numberFire receiving category than Calvin Johnson’s first two years in the NFL.

ReceptionsReception NEPTargetsTarget NEPRec. NEP/TargetTeam Pass Rank
Year 1      
Year 2      

According to the numbers, Gordon has been better when he catches the ball, when he’s targeted, and on a per target basis. Moreover, Gordon’s team passing attack has ranked fairly similar when compared to Megatron’s, with Detroit’s 17th-ranked passing game being the best of the group.

The numbers are eerily similar, with Gordon getting an edge in every single category. Is he better than Megatron? You can be the judge of that.

But just imagine what he’ll be able to do with a better quarterback.