by Nick Ercolano
June 18, 2018
Another #InTheMuckMonday for you, diving into two polarizing wide receiver options for 2018 fantasy football, Stefon Diggs and Josh Gordon.
When I do these breakdowns, I surprise myself every time. I find shit that I never thought I would and I come out with a different conclusion than my original hypothesis.
Let's break it down like a shotgun.
Before I go into this, before you hear anything from me, I want you to drop a comment below who you'd rather have, and I want to see after hearing my breakdown if it changes. So, drop a comment below, who you want, either Diggs or Gordon, and at the end of the video, drop another comment with who you want based on my analysis, I'm intrigued to see if it changes. I'll give you a second, scroll down, lmk Diggs or Gordon.
Stefon Diggs; Overall 37, WR15
Josh Gordon; Overall 39, WR16
Honestly, prior to this article, I really didn't know what to think of Diggs. The talent is obvious, but for one reason or another, actually, almost always injuries, he can't seem to finish as a top-15 fantasy WR. Eventually, you start to ask, okay, maybe he's just not capable of it. I definitely don't think that's the case.
While I'm not sure I'm on board with the people that think he's ready for a top-3/5 breakout, or that he's the next Antonio Brown, what I did find in this article is pretty fascinating and I'm excited to share it with you.
So, Diggs is 6-0, 190ish lbs, he's 24 years old, will turn 25 in November, still super young, entering the prime of his athletic as well as NFL career. He appeared in 14 games in 2017, the third year in a row he's failed to play in a full 16-game szn, posting 64 catches on 95 targets, 849 yards and a career-high 8 touchdowns. And you have to remember how hot he started out last year, actually each of the last two years. He was fantasy's #1 WR in 2 of the first 3 weeks in 2017.
This came after the coaching staff moved him outside, in favor of letting Adam Thielen run routes from the slot. The worry for me, along with most fantasy owners is, can Diggs truly reach that elite level if he's not even the #1 on his team? Thielen commanded a 27% target share last year in Minnesota, while Diggs was at 21%.
Overall, though, the move was a great one for the team, as anyone that knows or watches Diggs knows that he's a magician as a route runner, press coverage, man coverage, zone coverage, it doesn't matter. He doesn't need to be in the slot to get open. According to Matt Harmon of NFL.com, Diggs graded tremendously in his "Reception Perception" grading which looks at WRs individual game film and grades each route they run, he graded really well as a rookie and has improved in every season, including 2017, which he ranked as the #1 WR in success versus man coverage, Antonio Brown was a close 2nd. WHoop.
Where else did Stefon Diggs rank highly?
Production Premium: 12th
Target Premium: 10th
QB Rating When Targeted: 4th (119.2)
Top-9 in Fantasy Points per RR according to PFF in both STD and PPR.
But, the single most important number I want to highlight here is his contested catch rate: 83.3%. Ranking #1 in the NFL.
The big takeaways are this the contested catch rate and the Diggs injury concern and I'm gonna dive in deep on both of these.
That #1 ranked contested catch rate, do you know why that's absolutely huge? Because that's what's going to separate Diggs from Thielen in this offense. And I mean down by the redzone and the endzone. Thielen played in 2 more games than Diggs, and saw 41 more overall targets, but only had 4 more RZ targets and 2 more 10Z targets. Thielen had 17 RZ targets, Diggs had 13. Here's what pops out to me. Diggs' catch % in the RZ was nearly 85%, Thielens, 29%. Thiele turned just two of his 17 RZ targets into scores, Diggs scored on 7 of his 13 RZ targets. Inside the 10, Diggs was 3-of-6 scoring, Thielen, 1-of-8. Do you know why that is? Because the game tightens up dramatically. The throws are quicker, the coverage is tighter, and contested catches become the name of the game. This is where I see the new QB in Kirk Cousins absolutely feeding Diggs. Speaking on Kirk Cousins, I think Keenum was fantastic last year and I don't think he gets enough credit for what he did, or how good of a QB he is overall, but that's for another video. But worst case scenario, Kirk is on par with Keenum, very more likely that Kirk outperforms him statistically in 2018. Kirk threw for 27 TDs last year with an awful group of weapons in WAS. However, Kirk's weak point has always been in the RZ., at least when he doesn't have any good RZ targets. We look back at last year, his most targeted RZ players were:
1. Josh Doctson - 16 targets, caught just 31% of those passes, and had a 42.9% contested catch rate, which don't get me wrong is actually not that bad, but nothing compared to Diggs' 83%.
2. Jamison Crowder - 14 RZ targets, caught 50% of them, but again, nothing compared to Diggs'85%. And Crowders contested catch rate, an abysmal 36.4%.
Then we have Ryan Grant, who despite not being heavily targeted overall, saw 9 RZ targets, you wanna know why? Because Kirk trusts him down there. You wanna know why Kirk trusts him? Because Grant's CC rate was 79%, and he caught 7 of his 9 RZ targets. Hmmm..
I think it all just points to a ton of looks for Diggs down by the endzone.
The second big point to make is Diggs' injury history. I'm thankful I found this nugget last year, and I have no idea why I remembered it, but I did. This is from John Paulsen from 4for4 (@4for4_John) - highly suggest you follow him. This is what he wrote last year coming into 2017, not this offszn, keep that in mind.
It's basically telling you that when Diggs is even slightly injured, he doesn't play well. When he's fully healthy, not listed on the injury report, he's a beast. So, I went a step further and looked at this year. Now he missed two games, weeks 6 & 7. Coming back, he was listed on the injury report in Week 8, as questionable with the groin injury, guess what happened - 4-27-0. They had a bye, then the week after that, fully healthy, and not on injury report anymore? 4-78-1.
So, people are trying to pace Diggs out from last year, and I think they're doing it wrong. So what I did, was this. He left Week 5 early with the groin injury, so you don't count that, and I'm going to discount Week 8 because he was on the injury report, because now you know if he's on that, you should look for other options. So you have a 12-game sample size, and you can pace it like that if you'd like, but you know what, I included the two playoff games when he was fully healthy. I think it's fair because they were against two tough pass defenses in NO and PHI, so it's not like he's getting an advantage. So you substitute the game he got injured, and the game he was on the injury report, for those two fully healthy playoff games, and his 16-game pace turns out to be:
He would've finished as WR4 in front of Julio Jones.
Maybe you think I'm reaching here, but I think if you just use Diggs wisely, you're looking at a really really high upside, per game fantasy receiver.
Now, you want to talk upside, Gordon is your guy of course. I don't think we need to go over Gordon's history.
We'll look at what happened last year, the changes in this offense over the summer and how we project him in 2018.
Gordon came byke from missing like 698 days of football due to all heinous reasons. He finally stepped back on the football field in Week 13 for the Browns and played in their final 5 games. He caught 18 passes on 43 targets, for 335 yards and a touchdown. The catch % is abysmal, but so was his catchable target rate, which according to PlayerProfiler ranked 86th amongst WRs, so that was obviously more of a QB issue. What you have to love about Gordon is that YPR number of 18.6 in those last 5 games. Which is just below (18.9) that number back in 2013 where he snatched the soul of defenders on his way to an 87-1,646-9 line in just 14 games. The explosion is still there, and with a full off-szn, he should be ready to put it on full effect in 2018. Gordon is still relatively young, he turned 27 in April, so plenty of youth left in those trunks b.
The big question mark here is whether or not Gordon can maintain elite production with all of the weapons this team has now. Gordon saw 26% of the Browns targets during that 5-game stretch last year, which is definitely WR1 type volume. But, this year, they bring in Jarvis Landry who we know has frequently been among the league leaders in terms of target share since he's entered the league. They also have impressive rookie David Njoku stepping into his sophomore season, who only played 48% of their snaps in 2017, so you can expect more volume here as he passes Seth Devalve on the depth chart. Then, whoever wins that WR3 role, Corey Coleman or Antonio Callaway are both talented. Coleman actually a former 1st round pick and Callaway considered to be a 1st round pick but dropped after not being allowed to play during the 2017 szn at Florida and numerous off-field issues. They re-signed elite pass-catching back Duke Johnson to an extension, they bring in Carlos Hyde as well as using a 2nd round pick on former Georgia Bulldog Nick Chubb. Lot of mouths to feed in this offense.
Of course, they signed Tyrod Taylor, who is slated to be their starter for the opener but he'll probably be on a short leash with 1st overall pick Baker Mayfield breathing down his neck.
Taylor is a guy who has never been asked to throw the ball. Definitely a product of being in Buffalo, where their offenses have always been tops in the league in rushing volume, but we might see it again in Cleveland. Hue Jackson wants to run the ball so bad. It's actually embarrassing at this point because he says it every off-szn and then they go 1-31 and just can't. But you have to expect this team to be in more games and have the option of running the ball more, which they will do with 3 capable if not above average RBs, and a competent QB. When you look back at Hue Jackon's history, using the site FFStatistics, the highest a WR has ever finished with Hue as either the HC or OC is WR8 with A.J. Green back in 2015, otherwise, it's WR21 and worse in a 7-year sample.
So, with Josh Gordon, my conclusion is this. When you look at the Browns offense under Hue, we've seen their run/pass %'s skewed super heavily towards the pass, obviously because they're always trailing. 574 attempts in 2017, 568 attempts in 2016, 0-16, 1-15, we know what they're getting at that record. It's kind of funny, lol but Vegas still has them pegged as the worst over/under win total at 5.5. Still, that's a 5 game improvement from last year which will likely boost heavily impact their run/pass ratio. So let's say we take their overall play volume, about 935 plays each year, and instead of the about 64% pass ratio they've had we bring it down to like 59% which is about league average or a little more pass-friendly than league average which is a reasonable projection. We're looking at 59% of 935 plays = 551 pass attempts. Now, do you believe Gordon will see 26% of their targets? I don't know, I don't really think so to be honest. I would say 22-24% is probably reasonable which would equate out to about 120-130 targets.
That's about what I'd have Diggs projected for in terms of targets for a full szn.
So, obviously it's really close, obviously considering their fantasy ranks and ADP right now. Gordon has the big play ability and the upside we've seen, but overall, I'm leaning to Diggs. I like the offense more, I like the quarterback situation more, I think their defense will set them up for plenty of scoring opportunities and going back to what I broke down before about Diggs near the RZ, that's where he'll excel and I think he easily hits that 8-12 TD mark this year. I'm not sure I'm confident saying that with Gordon, as explosive as he is, this still is an offense projected to win 5 to 6 games.
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