Inside the return of Josh Gordon

We’ve been waiting — some more patiently than others — hoping against our better judgement that maybe, just maybe, the best Browns receiver since 1999 would make his way back to the organization. Although there were some dark days in the story of Josh Gordon, it seems as though the player has found his best path in life, and I couldn’t be happier for the man.

What comes with a mentally and physically healthy Gordon is a pure freak of nature who can make 20 yards disappear faster than just about any human lacing them up on a football field. Gordon has the raw ability at the wide receiver position to rival just about any player who has suited them up at the position. The excitement around the fan base couldn’t have been higher, and on Sunday, he didn’t disappoint.

In all, Gordon went for four catches on 11 total targets for 85 yards on the day. Now, while on the surface that doesn’t sound overwhelmingly successful consider this:

The chargers have been among the league’s best stopping the pass in 2017. Gordon was also being tailed by PFF’s (Pro Football Focus) highest graded corner this year in Casey Hayward. He was able to separate when needed, was sharp in and out of his breaks, and genuinely looked like a guy who hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to game action.

Following the game, Hayward stated that he didn’t get film on Gordon until Saturday, and compared it to cramming for an exam. “I think I got a B+,” he said of the overall effort.

For the day Gordon averaged 2.83 yards per route run. Let’s take a look at his catches in this one.

Q-1 14:54 9-yard reception

Gordon started the Browns offensive efforts with this nine yard catch out of the slot in a 2×2 set. Given Gordon’s ability to make plays from any position, seeing him in the slot was a welcome sight. Easy to see there was zero rust after making this catch.

Q-2 3:35 9-yard reception

Another 2×2 combo route from Gordon. This time a square in that catches Hayward off guard and allows him to work inside underneath the Chargers second level coverage. Gordon always did heavy damage on long drag routes and crossing concepts.

Q-2 2:56 26-yard reception

In traditional Gordon form he wins a one on one go route against Hayward and goes up to high point the ball for DeShone Kizer. It’s no secret Kizer needs to be able to trust his wide receivers to go get the ball like we see here.

Q-4 2:08 39-yard reception

This is Gordon’s final catch and probably most impressive as he bullies Casey Hayward for a 39-yard gain that is about 12 yards further than it should have been thanks to a deadly stiff arm from Gordon. The yards after catch come so easily to Gordon.

Lastly we will take a look at the misses on the remaining targets Gordon received. The film isn’t friendly to Kizer as he missed Gordon several times on what could have been touchdown throws (two were without question). There were some obvious timing issues here, but the frustration on Gordon was obvious.

It was very conceivable to think Gordon could have gone for eight catches, around 150 yards, and two touchdowns. There were plenty of misses that could have been big plays. The good thing here is that Josh Gordon looked like Josh Gordon again. After the game Gordon noted, “I feel free when I’m out there, my business is out there, people know what I’m about and that’s a great feeling.” That was obvious to see. Gordon looked like he was truly in his happy place back on an NFL field.

The 26-year-old is still young enough to have a lasting impact on this franchise and this league if he can continue his comeback story. The great news for the Browns is that it looks like they have their number one threat back again. The hope is that they can find the long-term solution at the quarterback position to match up with the talent that is Josh Gordon.