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Josh Gordon’s Last Chance for Redemption

By Chris Malumphy

Star wide receiver Josh Gordon is preparing to return to the Cleveland Browns for what seems like the umpteenth time after having been conditionally reinstated by the NFL from a suspension that has now lasted over two seasons. If he can continue to stay in the league’s good graces, Gordon will be eligible to play on December 3 when the Browns play the Los Angeles Chargers Gordon has displayed extraordinary talent in the past. The question is, has he retained his skills after missing nearly three of the past three and a half NFL seasons due to multiple suspensions for substance abuse.

Gordon had a remarkable 2013 season when he led the league with 1,646 yards on 87 receptions with nine touchdowns.. He is the only player to have consecutive 200-yard receiving days. Most of the passes in those two games were thrown by Brandon Weeden who is not known for having much other success in the NFL. Gordon’s game is based on his size (he’s 6’3” and last played at about 225 lbs) and speed. The questions are what shape is he in now and how much of that speed remains after such a long layoff. Another concern is whether he still has the desire that he displayed in 2013 and that was entirely lacking in 2014 upon his mid-season return from an earlier suspension.

Following is Gordon’s career record.

Josh Gordon
YearTargetsRecPctYardsAvgTDLongest20+
Yards
Yards
Game
FumblesFumbles
Lost
Yards
After
Catch
First
Downs
2012965052.180516.15711250.31130440
20131598754.7164618.999530117.60061964
2014472451.130312.6032360.60016916

Is he a one-hit wonder? What are the odds of a successful return?

I tried to find players who had at least 20 plus catches one year, went two seasons without a reception, and then caught 20 plus passes yet again. Since 1993, only six players matched that criteria: Plaxico Burress, Quadry Ismail, Brian Finneran, Preston Parker, Garrison Hearst and Shaun Draughn. Hearst and Draughn were running backs. Burress caught only 48 passes the remainder of his career after his layoff. But Gordon is just 26 while Burress was in his thirties. Quadry Ismail was the most productive receiver after the layoff with 235 receptions for the remainder of his career. The odd’s do not appear to be in Gordon’s favor.

Josh Gordon Comparables
NameYearTeamRecYearTeamRecRec
Before
Missing
Seasons
Rec
After
Missing
Seasons
Qadry Ismail1996Vikings221999Ravens68118235
Garrison Hearst199849ers39200149ers41113116
Shaun Draughn2012Chiefs24201549ers252456
Brian Finneran2005Falcons502008Falcons2118751
Plaxico Burress2008Giants352011Jets4550548
Preston Parker2011Buccaneers402014Giants364441
Josh Gordon2014Browns24       161  

When Gordon returned from an earlier suspension in 2014, he had a decidedly negative attitude and palled around with quarterback Johnny Manziel, another potential star who succumbed to substance abuse and who may never return to NFL action. From a solely football perspective, Gordon didn’t play very well either with just 24 catches and no touchdowns. Also note that Gordon has always had a relatively low percentage of targets caught. So he has really been a one-year wonder thus far who hasn’t had a good year since 2013, which to younger NFL fans is the ancient past.

If Gordon truly resurrects his life, it will be a praiseworthy miracle. If he also returns to football stardom, it will be a redemptive sports story for the ages.

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