Josh Gordon is fantasy football’s equivalent of the great white whale. As long as NFL teams keep giving the wide receiver chances to play in the league, fantasy football team managers won’t quit him, either.
It hasn’t been any different now that he’s signed by the Chiefs, his fourth team. Gordon was taken by the Browns in the second round of the 2012 supplemental draft nine years ago. Even though he’s now 30, there’s still hope he can return to his elite form he “Flashed” in Cleveland eight long years ago.
In only 14 games in 2013, Gordon caught 89 of 157 targets for a league-high 1,646 yards and 9 TDs. That made him the highest-scoring wide receiver in fantasy football in standard leagues and second to the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas in PPR. In reality, he also was a first-team All-Pro.
Then came the 2014 offseason, where his issues involving substance abuse derailed his promising career. He was suspended for 10 games by the NFL that year and then was banned for the entire 2015 campaign. As he continued to violate the league’s policy, he also missed all of the 2016 season.
There have been a lot of one-hit wonders in fantasy football, including two other Browns, Braylon Edwards (2007) and Peyton Hillis (2010). But because of him working for more chances in the league and getting them, he failed to fade from fantasy memories. When healthy and focused, he’s also still got the size (6-3, 225 pounds), speed, quickness, hands and route-running to be a dominant force.
So it wasn’t difficult for fantasy football managers to believe him in again in 2017, when he returned in Week 13 against the Chargers. He put up 4 catches for 85 yards and got 11 targets in that first game back. He followed that with 3 catches for 69 yards against the Packers. He ended the season with 4 catches and 115 yards against the Steelers.
That was rather incredible immediate production, given his long layoff from the game. The on-field legend was reborn to some extent. Then he fell out of favor with the Browns — only to be traded away to play with Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2018. There were some more big games among his 11 in New England, adding up to 40 catches, 720 yards and TD.
Gordon produced his awesome 2013 catching passes from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer. In ’17, he operated with DeShone Kizer at quarterback. So there was reason to believe Gordon jumping up to play with the GOAT QB as a more mature player at the prime age of 27 would lead to that steady fantasy and reality football success.
That reason was quickly squashed. With more personal issues, Gordon decided ot leave the Super Bowl 53-wining team in December before it was revealed he was facing an indefinite suspension from the NFL.
The Patriots stuck with him in 2019 hoping for reinstatement before the season, which happened. So now he was good with Brady, right? Nope, now it was a midseason knee injury that landed him on injured reserve. The Patriots lost patience, releasing him eight days later on Halloween.
Just went it seemed like Gordon blew his last best chance, Seahawks picked up him one day later. It didn’t work out with Brady and Bill Belichick, but Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll seemed like a situation that could work, right? He didn’t do much in Seattle at first, but he was re-signed to stick with Wilson — until he drew a fifth suspension that caused him to miss most of 2020 and get released early in 2021.
So here we are, after Gordon had a spring stint with the Zappers of the Fan Controlled League, he got reinstated to the NFL in late September. He was almost immediately signed by the Chiefs as another potential downfield threat for Patrick Mahomes. Fantasy football interest piqued, again.
The reason that fantasy football is obsessed with Gordon is not different why some of the NFL’s general managers and coaches are. League officials also keep giving him chance after chance because they want to see a player with his talent level prove he can turn it around.
Gordon also steps into another fantasy football mythos in Kansas City. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have been scoring machines for Mahomes at wide receiver and tight end, but everyone’s always looking for that third option in the passing game to be reliable in fantasy. Sammy Watkins (gone) and Mecole Hardman (still around) have been those guys. Heck, even Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle seemed like they could be those guys.
Gordon now suddenly feels a lot more like that guy because he has the field-stretching skills that mesh with Mahomes’ massive arm and complement Hill better than all of those players. He had plenty of offensive appeal to Andy Reid to be an impact player, and when that happens, fantasy football pays attention.
Possessing great talent and getting chances to play with great quarterbacks are big parts of why Gordon gives fantasy football players a glimmer of hope every time he’s back in the NFL. But it’s also the fact that managers also are looking for that secret sneaky savior on the waiver wire to try outsmart the rest of their league mates.
Gordon should be the forbidden fruit of fantasy in 2021, but it’s still a big ask to not be sweet on what he could still do on the field.