It's no secret that the Cleveland Browns have limited options at wide receiver, but their unit has recently been decimated by injury, making talented rookie receiver Josh Gordon a stellar spot start fantasy player.
In an 0-5 season where not much has gone right for the Browns, Gordon had a coming-out party of sorts in Week 5's matchup with the New York Giants. He caught two passes for 82 yards, but both went for touchdowns—a very rare multiple-TD showing for a Browns wideout.
This franchise has searched for a No. 1 receiver for years, and Braylon Edwards was the only one who was close. He didn't last. Now, Gordon has the chance to step up, and here's why:
Browns WR List of Injuries for Week 6 vs. Bengals (via ESPN)
|Jordan Norwood||Foot||Placed on IR|
Norwood snagged all nine of his targets last week for 83 yards, but won't be able to return for at least another six weeks. The electric rookie Benjamin won't be able to stretch the field vertically, and Massaquoi was Weeden's top target before going down in Week 3.
That leaves Greg Little—the most recently failed No. 1 Browns receiving candidate—who is similar to Gordon in terms of athleticism, but can't catch the football.
The rookie has battled a series of off-field struggles to even get to Cleveland, so he has the right mindset and focus on football to help the Browns turn things around. Judging by a simple quote from his Twitter account, Gordon's confidence is running high, too.
"Big things have small beginnings.."
— Josh Gordon (@JOSH_GORDONXII) October 7, 2012
Gordon stands at 6'3" and weighs a thick 225 pounds, making him an attractive target for fellow rookie Brandon Weeden.
There is a reason GM Tom Heckert invested a 2013 second-round pick in the supplemental draft to grab the former Baylor Bear. Not only had the Browns organization been familiar with Art Briles' Baylor program—2011 first-round pick Phil Taylor is an alumnus—but Gordon has incredible physical tools.
Considering Cleveland invested its No. 3 overall pick in running back Trent Richardson, it may be hard to believe Weeden is second in the NFL in passing attempts. It also may be hard to believe that Gordon is the team's leading receiver in terms of yardage despite just nine receptions on the season.
Welcome to the obscurity that is the Pat Shurmur era.
Circumstances have largely dictated the play-calling, to be fair. The Browns have frequently fallen behind, forced to rely on the passing game to keep them competitive.
A high volume of pass attempts is likely to fly through the air in Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday. On display last week was some semblance of chemistry between Weeden and a Browns receiver who could actually catch—Gordon.
Weeden had his best game of his young pro career in Week 2 at Cincinnati, although so did Richardson. A more balanced attack should lead to more explosive plays in the passing game, especially off of play-action.
That is how Weeden and Gordon connected for their first touchdown in East Rutherford.
Additionally, Gordon has the ability to out-muscle any Bengals cornerback who lines up across from him, which should net him plenty of looks in the red zone. The Browns should be able to move the ball down the field to get into those situations multiple times.
Gordon isn't the flash in the pan that recent fraudulent Browns receivers have been. He is just getting started, averaging 19.4 yards per catch in the limited opportunities he's had.
As reported by Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal, offensive coordinator Brad Childress was extremely impressed with Gordon's progression in that week alone:
I thought he had his best practice as a professional yesterday. I didn’t see any hesitation. I didn’t see him thinking about anything. I saw him playing fast, catching the football, just doing all the things that a professional receiver, you expect to see.
That's quite a revelation for Cleveland fans, that's for sure. Childress proved to be prodigious in what he saw on the practice field.
This should be a higher scoring game, based on the first meeting and some key injuries to the Cleveland defense. It's hard to say the Browns will win with much conviction—since they haven't in the past 11 games—but it's easy to make a case that Gordon will continue to build on the momentum from his breakout performance.
Based on his ball skills, improving technique, and lack of other viable options around him, Gordon is a no-brainer to spot start in Week 6.