Josh Gordon could be best receiver in the NFL next season
In just his second NFL season, Gordon entered the campaign on a two-game suspension for marijuana use, but wasted no time when he finally took the field. The 22-year-old kid shredded the Minnesota Vikings for ten catches, 146 yards, and a touchdown in his season debut. The 2012 supplemental draft pick now leads the league with 1,564 receiving yards and 19.6 yards per reception.
If you ask anyone who the best receiver in the NFL is, you will most likely hear "Calvin Johnson" before you even get a chance to finish the question. The freakish 6'5'', 240-pound pass catcher has the dimensions of a plodding tight end with the skill set of a speedy wide receiver. He makes catches that had previously never been imagined, and can out-jump any defensive back for the football. After leading the league with 122 receptions in 2012 while breaking Jerry Rice's single-season receiving record with 1,964 yards, Johnson solidified his place as the league's top receiver, as well as one of the all-time greats.
While Johnson had a nice run as the league's top receiver, however, Gordon may soon be ready to take the reigns. Consider the fact that Gordon - at the age of 22 - is averaging 120.3 receiving yards per game this season. That is just 1.9 less than what Johnson averaged in his record-breaking 2012 campaign. Also consider that in Johnson's age-22 season, the eventual All-Pro put up a modest 48/756/4 line across 15 games - Gordon is currently at 80/1,564/9 across 13 games.
Gordon has long been slowed by off-field troubles, but the kid looks to be maturing and taking the game more seriously than ever. When asked about his goals for the 2014 season, Gordon said, "Hands down, just be outrightly the best receiver in the NFL." If you think about it, that is certainly a possibility.
Despite missing the first two games, Gordon has 72 more receiving yards than anyone else in the NFL this season, and is averaging 13.7 more yards per game than Johnson. Throw in the theory that a wide receiver's third season is often his breakout year, and you've got a recipe for sheer domination from Gordon. If the Browns can get their hands on a stable quarterback through free agency or the draft, that could make Gordon even more consistent.
Now consider the recent regression of Johnson. Note that I keep comparing Gordon to Johnson, because Johnson is the player who Gordon will have to surpass to become the league's best receiver in most people's eyes. Johnson is still an absolutely phenomenal player. He is averaging the second-most yards per game of his career with his second-best career touchdown total. However, his history of nagging injuries is beginning to occasionally affect him on game days, and his drop rate ranks 30th among 41 qualifiers (granted, Gordon is not much better at 28th).
For anyone who thinks that Gordon's numbers are inflated because he gets all the targets in Cleveland, that is not the case. Gordon has nine less targets on the season than Johnson, making him the ninth most targeted player in the NFL this season.
For those who say that Johnson is better because you can just throw it up to him and let him make a play, consider that quarterbacks have a 111.7 passer rating when throwing to Gordon, and a 92.4 rating when throwing to Johnson. To make Gordon look even better, Johnson's quarterback - Matt Stafford - is much better than the Weeden/Hoyer/Campbell carousel that Gordon has had to deal with. One final statistic is that both the Lions and Browns have thrown 19 interceptions this year, but nine of the Lions' interceptions have been thrown in Johnson's direction, while just two of the Browns' picks have gone towards Gordon.
If I had to pick one wide receiver for one game, I'd still roll with Johnson as of now. After just one great season, I don't yet trust Gordon quite as much as Megatron. However, Gordon clearly has the best receiving numbers in the NFL this year, and it would not surprise me at all if the majority of the NFL community considered him the league's best receiver by this time next year, and part of me expects that to be the case.