How High Is Jordan Cameron's Fantasy Football Ceiling in 2015?
The role of the tight end in fantasy football might be overstated, but having a relatively reliable option (i.e. someone not almost entirely touchdown-dependent), can make weekly decisions a heck of a lot easier.
Because there are so few reliable options at the tight end position, the thought of locking up players such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham is no longer completely crazy, and tight ends have become potential first-round options in recent years.
But when those early picks on tight ends don't pan out -- like Jordan Cameron and Vernon Davis in the fifth round and Kyle Rudolph in the seventh last year -- even amid some pretty horrible-in-hindsight picks such as Ben Tate and Bishop Sankey, you can be putting your team in a tough position.
So what if a 6'5", 245-pound tight end with elite athleticism on a team that ran the second-most red zone plays in the league last year was available for one of those seventh-round picks?
Do we bite?
After all, Jordan Cameron has some pretty fantastic athleticism scores, comparing him to the unstoppable-when-healthy Julius Thomas. He's also shown that he can be an elite tight end in the past -- at least for fantasy football purposes.
In 2013, he finished as the TE5 in standard scoring leagues, but last season he rewarded owners with just 10 games played as a result of concussion issues. Now two rounds cheaper in average draft position (he's going, on average, in the middle of Round 7) should you chase his upside?
Cameron's Misleading Past
If we're talking football -- and we are -- then we have to check out Cameron through the lens of Net Expected Points (NEP), which is our signature metric for quantifying a player's impact. Basically, NEP scores show how many points above (or below) expectation-level a player adds to his team's expected point total.
So in 2013, when Cameron ranked third among tight ends in receptions (80) and targets (118), he also ranked third in Reception NEP (80.46). For full disclosure, he was well behind Graham's position-leading mark of 119.71, but among tight ends who didn't berserk that season, he played quite well. But what did he do from an efficiency standpoint?
Well, among the 22 tight ends who saw at least 60 targets that year, his Reception NEP per target (0.68) ranked him ninth. That's not awful, given his volume and team situation (Cleveland's Adjusted Passing NEP per play of -0.04 ranked 23rd in the league).
However, his Reception Success Rate (76.25%), which indicates the percentage of his receptions that actually added to Cleveland's expected scoring, ranked just 21st, better than only the always-inefficient Jermaine Gresham's (73.91%). That suggests that Cameron took advantage of some big plays to put up his NEP scores (and in terms of raw stats suggests that he earned a significant portion of his counting stats in garbage time).
Garbage time production counts all the same, but perhaps it's not best to look for from a tight end on a team ranked 12th in our power rankings.
Last year, Cameron saw just 48 targets and 24 receptions (for an easy-to-calculate catch rate that was better only than Jeff Cumberland's 48.94% among 32 tight ends with at least 40 targets). To make matters worse, that Reception Success Rate continued to sink to the bottom of the pool. His 70.83% ranked better only than Gresham's 69.35% and Levine Toilolo's 67.74%.
His Reception NEP per target (0.65) was even less efficient than in his high-volume breakout season.
In other words, we might have the perception that Cameron has been lethal if and when he actually caught the ball, but that's not exactly the case. Only when he had top-three volume did he manage top-five fantasy upside.
But What About That Miami Offense?
I'm all for the Miami offense for the most part -- or at least as it pertains to Cameron's fantasy potential.
They ran 207 plays inside the red zone last year, second only to Green Bay's 209. And, sure, they threw it on only 47.34% of those plays (20th in the league), but that still meant that they threw 98 times in the red zone last year. For some perspective, Oakland and Jacksonville saw just 96 total red zone plays last year.
Last year, Dolphins tight end Charles Clay saw 20 red zone targets, fourth among the position. Only Antonio Gates (14) saw more targets from inside the 10 than Clay did (13). Clay finished in a four-way tie for third with most targets from inside the five-yard line (5). Only Graham (7) and Gates (6) saw more. Clay just happened to finish with only three touchdowns, but it wasn't for lack of attempts.
In his stead, Mike Wallace, now with the Minnesota Vikings, inexplicably scored nine red zone touchdowns last year, and Clay is playing with division-rival Buffalo.
Cameron, if he can get that type of volume, can be a fantasy superstar again (in his 2013 season, he saw 19 red zone targets, 11 from inside the 10, and 5 from inside the five; again, Clay was at 20, 13, 5).
So What Gives?
Unfortunately, there may not be the volume Cameron needs (unless he suddenly becomes uber efficient with his targets or unless Philbin is bluffing about playing Sims on run downs) to be a no-doubt, reliable option week after week.
In terms of upside? His ceiling is pretty immense, given that there are basically identical (well, slightly more) red zone opportunities vacated by Clay than Cameron saw in his 2013 season in Cleveland. The Dolphins, based on last year at least, can get to the red zone frequently, and there's no questioning Cameron's athletic ability.
Still, there are enough unknowns in his expected usage to make his floor a question mark. But if you're looking for elite upside at the tight end position and don't chase the top three preseason fantasy tight ends (Gronkowski, Graham, and Travis Kelce) then Cameron is undoubtedly a player to target this year.