The New England Patriots haven’t benefited from a dynamic wide receiver on the outside since Randy Moss, but Josh Gordon has the opportunity to be the game-changing deep threat Bill Belichick has spent years looking for.
Though Josh Gordon didn’t play the full season for the New England Patriots and wasn’t a part of their playoff run en route to another Super Bowl championship, the impact he made on the offense was clear.
Gordon led the way with 18 yards per reception in his 12 appearances, making an immediate impact despite not having any prior experience in the offense. This is the same offense that legends like Reggie Wayne and Chad Ochocinco failed to pick up, whereas Gordon seamlessly averaged a ridiculous 10.4 yards per target and 65.5 yards per game.
Those statistics provide a glimpse of what Gordon can do with a quarterback like Tom Brady. Several years ago with the Cleveland Browns, Gordon had 1,600 receiving yards in 14 games despite playing with a host of journeymen who are either no longer in the league or safely warming the bench. Gordon’s playmaking ability reached legendary status that season, and it’s not inconceivable for him to reach great heights again in 2019.
The NFL, out of the blue, reinstated Gordon on Friday evening, sending Patriots fans into a frenzy heading into the weekend. With his 6’3″, 225-pound frame, blinding speed, brilliance at the line of scrimmage, strength at the catch point, and uncanny agility, Gordon has all the tools in the book to be a dominant outside target again. As his 18 yards per reception show, the 28-year-old still has plenty left in the tank in terms of downfield explosiveness.
In 2007, the Patriots went undefeated in the regular season and set records with another on-field genius and athletic freak in Randy Moss. Since then, they tried to find Moss 2.0 in Aaron Dobson out of Marshall, took a flier on Brandon LaFell, and went after former first-round picks Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson as veteran fliers. Although all of those players save for Dobson have had success in New England, none had the mental or physical tools to develop into a superstar.
Meanwhile, Gordon has already produced at that level in the past, and he’s shown signs of still being that player. Last season, he had the production: 10.4 yards per target is quite the average. And in the offseason, he spent time working out with Brady, showing that he has the discipline and rapport with the legendary quarterback.
It’s all there for Gordon, and the only thing hanging over his head is the substance abuse issues. If he’s been able to find the help he needs in this battle and has the coping strategies in place, the rest will fall into place. For Gordon, these are the question marks and battles, because he’s never had any issues in the film room or with the pads on.
The Patriots aren’t necessarily counting on Gordon to be great, because they were able to win the Super Bowl without him. But his reinstatement couldn’t come at a better time for a Patriots team trying to deal with losing Rob Gronkowski to retirement. Furthermore, Julian Edelman will miss some games due to suspension, and rookie N’Keal Harry may not be ready to be a factor until later in the season.
So while the Patriots aren’t putting all their eggs in Gordon’s basket, they are hoping he can be the final piece that keeps them ahead of the hungry Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and other AFC teams, in addition to the dangerous squads lurking in the NFC.
Gordon is the “X” receiver with size, speed and the innate football IQ that the Patriots have been hunting for since Moss, and now they have a chance to benefit from taking a chance on this special talent. The Patriots traded for Gordon, tendered him as a restricted free agent, and will presumably continue to stand by a man who needs a support system. This is their guy, and this might just be the season where he takes the NFL by storm again.