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Inside the NFL | Browns reap reward of Gordon’s explosive play

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 02:12

Ask most people who the most talented wide receiver in the NFL is, and they will likely say Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. Then ask them who the most promising young receiver is, and you will probably hear A.J. Green or Julio Jones. 

One name that should be mentioned more often in both of these conversations is Josh Gordon. The Cleveland Browns’ second-year receiver, whose stellar play on the field has been coupled with positive drug tests off of it, may have more ability than any wide receiver in the NFL and is a perfect illustration of why NFL teams keep taking chances on talented players with issues off the field. 

As a sophomore at Baylor University, Gordon was a major cog in the Bears’ prolific offense. He caught 42 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns, and he was named to the All-Big 12 third team by Phil Steele.

That season, however, Gordon’s off-the-field issues rose to the surface. In October, he was caught asleep in a car with another teammate in the parking lot of a Taco Bell. Police found marijuana in the car, and Gordon was suspended for one game. 

In July 2011, Gordon failed a drug test, testing positive for marijuana, and was suspended indefinitely by Baylor head coach Art Briles. A month later, he transferred to Utah but never played a down for the Utes, declaring for the 2012 Supplementary Draft instead of completing his senior season. 

Looking to add explosiveness to their dormant 2011 offense, which ranked 30th in the NFL in total yards, the Browns took a huge gamble and drafted Gordon in the second round of the Supplementary Draft, signing him to a 4-year, $5.3 million contract.

If a team selects a player in the supplemental draft, the organization forfeits its pick in that round of the draft the next season. As a result, teams rarely take players in the supplemental draft. Of the eight players eligible for the 2012 Supplementary Draft, Gordon was the only one drafted. 

Thus, the Browns were essentially risking their second round pick in the 2013 Draft in hopes that Gordon would be a productive wide receiver despite not playing in a game for more than 18 months, and more importantly, that he would stay out of trouble.

Gordon got off to a stellar start in 2012 and finished among the league’s top rookie receivers with 50 receptions for 805 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Browns in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He also seemed to gain confidence as the season wore on.

Looking to build on his success as a rookie, Gordon again found himself in trouble before the start of the 2013 season. In June, Gordon tested positive for codeine, a substance banned by the NFL, apparently as a result of a cough medicine he took for strep throat he had in February earlier that year. While the NFL is stringent even with substances consumed unknowingly, Gordon was given just a two-game suspension for the beginning of the season.

Once he returned to the field, Gordon bested his impressive rookie numbers to keep the lowly Browns in playoff contention for much of the season. Gordon’s performance in his last two outings, however, has really brought him into the center of the NFL spotlight. Gordon recorded over 200 receiving yards in both games, becoming the first player in league history to do so in back-to-back regular season weeks. In the two games combined, the explosive receiver caught 24 passes for 498 yards and three touchdowns. 

In terms of raw talent, Gordon ranks among the NFL’s top receivers. His 6’3, 225-pound frame frees him from physical cornerbacks, and his 4.3 40-time allows him to separate from defenders and make big plays down the field.

But Gordon’s consistent problems with substance abuse should be troubling for Cleveland or any other team that might be interested in signing him once his contract expires at the end of the 2015 season. 

If Gordon can remain on the field, his NFL future is extremely bright. Gordon ranks second in the league with 1,249 receiving yards this season despite playing only ten games. What’s more, Cleveland’s quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, are two of the most inconsistent in the league. One can only imagine how much more productive Gordon could be with even an average NFL quarterback.  

Assuming the receiver can kick his persistent marijuana habit and remain on the field, Gordon should remain a dominant force in the NFL for years to come.

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