He was suspended for the first two games of the season and played with three subpar quarterbacks for the entire year, yet Josh Gordon ended up leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards and 17.6 yards per catch.
In Gordon’s first game back, he recorded ten catches for 146 yards with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback. It seemed like Gordon was able to burn Vikings’ defensive backs whenever he wanted to. On one particular play, cornerback A.J. Jefferson (who was later cut by Minnesota) was lined up in man-to-man coverage on Gordon:
Gordon route was an out-and-up – he turned around sharply, and Jefferson bit on it.
Once Jefferson came up, Gordon took off.
Although Brian Hoyer’s pass was a little behind his receiver, Gordon had created so much separation for himself that ball location didn’t matter much. Route-running ability is often overlooked in favor of speed when evaluating a receiver, but Gordon has both. His sharp cut that made Jefferson bite beat the man coverage, not necessarily his speed. That was one hell of a route to beat the Vikings’ DB.
Click here to watch the full play.
Physicality and ability to get open against both man and zone coverages are all underrated aspects of being a pro wide receiver as well. The Bengals are playing zone coverage here. Gordon is able to get off a jam by the slot corner:
After he gets off the jam, he’s able to split two Bengals’ safeties on the post route to get open. Click here to watch the full play.
Gordon gets open so easily, even when he doesn’t get much separation (which is a rarity) and even when his quarterbacks don’t put the ball in the best spot (not a rarity – Hoyer, Weeden, and Campbell).
Gordon has had some trouble with the law, but none of his past off-field issues should give reason to assume that his football IQ isn’t where it needs to be for a receiver.
On this play, Gordon settles perfectly into the zone like an NFL veteran would do, not running his hitch route too shallow or too deep.There’s a safety coming in from the weak side to try to break up the pass and a corner coming in from the other side, but both are late.
He turns around right in the middle of the zone; the throw is late, but because Gordon found the hole in the zone, the safety was late anyway.
The result was a 95 yard touchdown, all because of his ability on this play to have the smarts to find the space in the zone. Click here to watch the full play.
Gordon had to deal with the erratic quarterback play of Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and Jason Campbell, so his ability to adjust to off-target throws was another reason he was so successful.
On this play earlier in the game against Jacksonville, Gordon was lined up against Jaguars’ cornerback Dwayne Gratz and was running a go route:
Gordon had a step on Gratz near the 10-yard line, but the ball was late and underthrown. Despite that, he turned his head around in time to notice that, and came back to the ball.
Gordon then caught the ball with a nice tip-toe grab on the sideline at the 5-yard line.
Because of that adjustment to a poor throw, the Browns gained 42 yards instead of gaining zero yards. Click here to watch the full play.
Gordon was arguably the best receiver in the NFL in 2013 despite limited time and a trio of mediocre quarterbacks. The Browns might snag Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, or Teddy Bridgewater with the 4th pick in the draft – a consistent quarterback could make Josh Gordon an even more prolific receiver.