Film Room: Josh Gordon

Film Room: Josh Gordon
Film Room: Josh Gordon
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Charles McDonald

The paths people take through their lives usually aren't linear. Most people don't go from Point A to Point B without any hiccups along the way. People will make mistakes, damage relationships, and even put their own future and the future of the people around them at risk. For the most part, people deserve second chances. A chance for redemption. A chance to rebuild. A chance for growth.

In the current landscape of the NFL, Josh Gordon is the current example of someone who has an opportunity to change the narrative about his character and rewrite the book on his career. He faces a tall task considering the numerous suspensions that have been handed down during his NFL career, but like just about everything else in this world, it helps to be astonishingly proficient at what you do. Josh Gordon is a supremely talented wide receiver. In 2013 (when he was only 22 years old), Gordon posted 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns, including back-to-back 200-yard games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.


Since the end of the 2013 season, Gordon has played in just seven games. Five of those games occurred in the 2014 season, and the other two have been the past two weeks of this year. In true extraterrestrial fashion, Gordon has picked up right where he left off despite missing 44 games from 2015 to 2017. Even though he's playing with the floundering duo of DeShone Kizer and Hue Jackson, Gordon still looks every bit the elite receiver he was in 2013, which is obviously a huge plus for the Browns moving forward.

Jackson immediately got Gordon into the offense when he was eligible to play. Gordon's first test was against the Los Angeles Chargers, who quietly have a tough pass defense (sixth in pass defense DVOA) led by superstar corner Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams, an emerging cornerback in his own right.

It's fairly amazing to see that even with all of his time off, Gordon still has the freakish physical ability the he showed in 2013. Kizer and Gordon were a bit off in their first game together against the Chargers, but they came close to making a handful of big plays.

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Cleveland is running a concept with three vertical routes and a seven-man protection scheme. Obviously, the idea here is to give the quarterback enough time to hit a receiver downfield for a big gain. Gordon is the third receiver from the sideline at the top of the screen (just outside the left tackle) and he's going to run a streak towards the opposite side of the field.

He showed off that rare athletic ability to zoom down the field despite being listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. Gordon finds himself open behind the last defender he needed to beat, but Kizer just missed him for what would've been a touchdown.

When Kizer did give Gordon a ball that he could make a play on, the results were largely spectacular. Gordon's catch over Heyward was one of the first plays that reminded the world exactly how gifted of a wide receiver Josh Gordon is.

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The Chargers make their intentions here very clear: they're going to run Cover-1, man coverage with the free safety playing deep. This is an easy read for Kizer. With Gordon singled up on the one-receiver side against Heyward with a clear man coverage look, that's an opportunity that needs to be taken.

Gordon runs a go route and immediately beats Heyward off the line. Once Kizer sees Gordon clear Heyward, he lofts the ball up to the receiver. It's a bit underthrown, but not uncatchable. Gordon makes a fantastic effort to slightly decelerate and attack the ball in the air over Heyward for a 28-yard gain. These are the plays that elite receivers make, the kind of plays that Cleveland desperately needed back in their offensive arsenal.

With his athletic traits, Gordon is a monster after the catch. Later in that same game, Cleveland dialed up a dagger concept to utilize Gordon's ability to create after he catches the ball.

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The dagger concept is a two-man route pattern designed to clear out the middle of the field. The inside receiver runs a go route and the outside receiver -- Gordon in this case -- runs a deep in-breaking route. Against the Chargers' Cover-1 look, the go route is going to drive both the free safety and the corner tasked with covering that route deep.

Once the free safety clears, the outside receiver breaks inside. If the ball is on time and caught, these plays have tremendous potential for yards after the catch, which is only amplified with a talent like Gordon. Gordon breaks inside, catches the ball, and shows the Chargers' defense exactly how hard he is to bring down in the open field.

Gordon's ability to get down the field in a hurry is always a plus on deep play-action shots like the Yankee concept. Cleveland used one for a big gain early in their game against the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday. The Yankee concept has become increasingly popular across the league because the deep crosser is extremely difficult to defend. Julio Jones has been tremendous on these plays over the past few seasons, and Gordon is a similar type of talent.

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After the deep play-action drop by DeShone Kizer, Gordon finds himself streaking across the field on a deep crosser all by himself. Kizer finds him deep, and Gordon again shows off his ability to pick up chunks of yards after the catch.

Later on that drive, Gordon was able to pick up his first touchdown since the 2014 season. Cleveland called a double post route to combat Green Bay's Cover-2 look in the red zone.

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Kizer is going to the throw the ball to the first receiver to break underneath one of the safeties playing deep. With Gordon's competition on the other side of the formation being Seth DeValve, this isn't much of a contest.

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This was a fantastic throw by Kizer. He put it in the only spot that Gordon could catch it. Gordon rewarded him by making an unbelievable play on the ball. There are only a handful of receivers who can make this pla,y and Gordon is definitely one of them. He didn't show any rust after being away from regular-season action for so long.

The NFL is undoubtedly a more entertaining product with Josh Gordon back in the picture. If he can stay clean, stay off suspension, and stay in shape, he'll be well worth the redemption investment that Cleveland is making in him. Mistakes like the ones Gordon made shouldn't be the end of an NFL career. He still has a ways to go to completely end doubt that he won't mess up again, but so far, so good.

The combination of talent, swagger, and overall demeanor makes Josh Gordon a joy to watch, and knowing the personal battles he's overcoming makes his story more special. He has the talent to be an all-time great; hopefully he can fulfill on his immense potential.


6 comments, Last at 15 Dec 2017, 11:37pm

#1 by RobotBoy // Dec 15, 2017 - 3:02am

I didn't see much of Gordon the first time around. He must be an astounding talent to step in after almost four years and perform at a star level.
Kizer's first pass is doesn't have loft that would allow Gordon to run under it. The next two passes are both hideously late and underthrown. Last one seems solid though, he had to get it over the LB but it was too high for most receivers. Anyone (besides the Browns) think Kizer has the goods to be a decent NFL QB?

Points: 0

#2 by roguerouge // Dec 15, 2017 - 8:22am

After Jared Goff, I'm holding my opinions until year two on QBs, especially those on very bad teams. (See also, Case Keenum for how context shapes the QB from the same Rams team.)

Points: 0

#3 by Joseph // Dec 15, 2017 - 9:30am

I take a middle of the road scenario between your comment and comment #2.
I think Kizer has had some good moments, but has also shown why he fell to the 2nd round and was a clear tier below the 3 first rounders.
I think CLE should take the best QB by their evaluations at #1, and then take the best O-lineman(or best available) with Houston's pick. In this way, they have two potentially good QB's to evaluate during the offseason. It's not like they don't have the cap space for both, and if they have a quality backup, even better. They can always flip "backup QB with great potential" for a high draft pick. (See Jimmy G, AJ McCarron, etc.)

Points: 0

#4 by Pat // Dec 15, 2017 - 9:55am

They're most likely late and underthrown because Kizer has been practicing with guys that are dramatically worse than Gordon. It's hard to state exactly how bad the receiving corps in Cleveland is.

Gordon will end up leading the receivers on the Browns in DYAR this year. And it likely won't be close. He's already practically there, just trailing Corey Coleman by 11 DYAR.

Points: 0

#6 by Kopalec // Dec 15, 2017 - 11:37pm


To give you some idea, the article lists his stats in 2013, however you also need to bear in mind he did that in only 14 games. (If I recall correctly)

Points: 0

#5 by billprudden // Dec 15, 2017 - 11:36am

Would old regime have traded him for draft picks? Motivated by risk / reward?

To NE, Pitt, Cincy, or Balt?

Not piling on anti-analytics, asking seriously.

Points: 0

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