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jordancameron

Last week I added my addition to the RotoViz list of players to avoid at their current ADP: Jordan Cameron, your fourth tight end going off the board at No. 48 overall according to My Fantasy League ADP for drafts since August 1.1 Cameron is a young athletic player coming off a breakout season, so why do I think he’s someone to stay away from as a top 50 pick? Four simple reasons: (1) He has a rookie QB; (2) Josh Gordon’s absence may not provide the production boost people expect; (3) there will be less passing in Cleveland this year;2 and (4) there’s plenty of TE value available later in the draft.

To recap part one, TEs don’t see an increase in volume or fantasy scoring when paired with a rookie QB. Just like with running backs, you’re better off targeting guys in stable efficient offenses.3

Now we’re on to part two, where we ask the question—what will Gordon’s suspension mean for Cameron’s 2014 fantasy value?

Measuring the Effect of the Gordon Suspension News

First let’s take a look at how news of Gordon’s suspension has impacted Cameron’s draft value. This is actually a bit tricky. Since news of Gordon’s impending suspension broke prior to the redraft fantasy football draft season beginning in earnest, let’s see what true fantasy football degenerates (i.e. dynasty owners) have thought about his value this offseason. Using the invaluable dynasty ADP data collected by Ryan McDowell at Dynasty League Football we can see that in April–when pot leaf back tattoos made Jacob Rickrode presciently nervous enough to advise us to sell Gordon–Cameron’s dynasty ADP was 47 overall. As of July it’s climbed a full 10 spots to 37 overall. Sure, this is dynasty, and owners are considering numerous factors beyond the Gordon suspension, but nevertheless we have at least one data point showing increased cost to acquire Cameron post-Gordon suspension news.

In terms of redraft ADP, we have seen an increase as well. This rise has occurred post-suspension news but I believe it’s been primarily a response to the Gordon suspension. Back in June Cleveland Brown’s beat writer Tony Grossi reported that Cameron was the Browns player most likely to benefit from the Gordon suspension with James Todd concluding that Cameron was likely undervalued at his then ADP of 63 overall. Since then Cameron’s ADP has risen by over a round.

The Gordon suspension has also affected the perception of Cameron by high profile rankers. Take Rotoworld’s Evan Silva for example. In January Silva ranked Cameron 57 overall. Since then the TE has steadily increased in Silva’s redraft rankings, with Cameron now sitting at 28 overall in the latest top 150. Along the way Silva has specifically referenced Cameron being “the focal point of Shanahan’s passing attack following Josh Gordon’s suspension” as a reason for being bullish on Cameron.

Doing the Splits

As I said, it’s hard to pin down the exact increase that the Gordon suspension has had on Cameron’s ADP, but all things considered I think it’s fair to say that the Gordon’s suspension has widely been viewed as positive news for Cameron. But should it be?  For answers let’s turn to the Game Splits App.

Cameron_Gordon_splits

 Well that looks tasty.  Cameron scored nearly six points per game more in the two games that Gordon was out of the lineup last year. What about top TE Jimmy Graham when Marques Colston has been out of the lineup?

Graham_Colston_2011-2013

Yes please.  These two splits fit with the idea that when a team is missing their top wideout and has an elite TE on the roster they will adjust by running the offense through their TE. But hold on, let’s look at size of those splits.4 We’re talking about three games where  Graham played without Colston and just two games where Cameron played without Gordon. And really, we’re talking about one game for each. Look:

Cameron_week2

Graham_Colston_2011-2012

If we remove the one massive game that each player put up without their top WR5 their averages return to the mean.  Given the variability of touchdown scoring and TE’s propensity for catching TDs, I’m pretty nervous about drawing conclusions from a sample size this small.  What looks like a strong effect may actually just be noise.  And, at the very least you need to be cautious about targeting Cameron this year based on this evidence alone.

Even Bigger Splits

To take another crack at answering this question I took a look at the last 14 seasons of regular season NFL games and identified each team’s No. 1 TE and No. 1 WR for the year. I then took a look at what happened in games where the TE appeared without the WR.

 

 TargetsRecRec YardsRec TDSTD FPPPR FP
TE w/ #1WR4.83.034.00.34.87.8
TE w/o #1WR5.23.136.10.24.87.9

Over the past decade plus, a team’s main TE has seen more targets when their top WR has been out, but he hasn’t really been more effective from a fantasy perspective. Perhaps as the result of increased defensive attention, these TEs weren’t able to turn additional opportunities into additional fantasy scoring, particularly when it comes to scoring TDs.

This split certainly doesn’t indicate that Gordon’s absence will be a boost for Cameron, but then again perhaps we’re being unfair to Cameron.  Cameron was an impressive athlete who broke out last year as top five TE. Let’s give Cameron credit for the talent he showed last season and take a look at how top five TEs have performed with and without their top WR. Perhaps TEs with an increased talent level will demand a larger share of the passing game and better handle any increased defensive attention that comes along with it.

 TargetsRecRec YardsRec TDSTD FPPPR FP
Top 5 TE w/ #1WR7.34.856.70.48.112.9
Top 5 TE w/o #1WR7.74.859.60.48.613.4

That’s pretty much exactly what we see. Top five TEs have seen increased volume and in turn have generated additional fantasy production. I think this split counts a solid point in Cameron’s favor. While still nothing like the six-fantasy point difference we saw in his splits from last year, this does provide some evidence that Cameron could be worth bumping up your draft board if Gordon is suspended for the year.

Then again, maybe we’re being unfair to Gordon. Cameron may have been an impressive athlete who broke out last year but Gordon was the prettiest girl at the bar who carried teams to fantasy titles year.  Let’s see how starting TEs and top five TEs have both done with and without an elite top five WR.

 TargetsRecRec YardsRec TDSTD FPPPR FP
TE w/o Top 5 WR4.83.033.90.34.77.7
TE w/ Top 5 WR4.83.235.20.35.08.1
Top 5 TE w/o Top 5 WR7.34.756.60.48.112.8
Top 5 TE w/ Top 5 WR7.35.057.60.48.213.3

We actually see the reverse effect here. TEs who play with a top five WR are more efficient on a per target basis and score more fantasy points. This is true of both the general TE starters and the top five TEs. Perhaps the presence of a top five WR simply improves a team’s offense to the point that their TE can operate more effectively, or draws so much defensive attention as to create mismatches for the TE.

I think this split is a solid red flag for Cameron this year. If Gordon is suspended for the year, Cameron is likely to see a lot of volume—but he was probably in line for a solid workload regardless. Post-suspension, defenses won’t have to worry about Gordon’s game-breaking ability and will be free to focus on shutting down Cameron.

The Cameron Rorschach Test

Take this last split with a grain of salt as the sample sizes are quite small6 but I think it’s interesting as a Rorschach test of sorts.

 TargetsRecRec YardsRec TDSTD FPPPR FP
TE w/ Top 5 WR DNP4.42.831.10.24.26.9
Top 5 TE w/ Top 5 WR DNP7.85.064.50.59.314.3

 

This table breaks down how TEs have done in seasons when their team had a top five WR but in games when that WR did not play7  and I think it captures both the appeal and the risk inherent in drafting Cameron this year. The general TE cohort put up the least production in these situations of any sample we’ve seen thus far; the top five TE cohort put up the most. Basically if Cameron is legit and the Cleveland passing offense can effectively run through him he could be well worth the investment this season. However, if the Cleveland offense struggles to maintain drives without Gordon and/or Cameron struggles to handle increased defensive attention, drafting Cameron in the fourth round this year could prove disastrous.

Conclusion

After running the numbers on rookie QBs and what they mean for TEs, I came away pretty convinced that we should reject the narrative that TEs with rookie QBs benefit from increased volume. After running the numbers on how the absence of a team’s top WR affects their TE I think the best course of action is to remain fairly agnostic and stick to your original assessment of the player. It’s possible that TEs in these situations will benefit from increased targets but it’s also possible that they will have difficulty handling increased defensive attention and that their offense may simply be less effective as a whole.

In the particular case of Cameron this year, it appears that the fantasy community is not remaining agnostic at all but is instead assuming that Gordon’s absence will be a net positive for Cameron. I think that’s a dangerous assumption to make and one that I’m hoping will create some value for me in my drafts this year.

In part three I’ll take a look at how Cleveland’s passing volume could impact Cameron in 2014.

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  1. He’s actually dropped down to 49 overall since I published Part 1 last week, coincidence??? . . . Yes, probably.  (back)
  2. on the Browns at least  (back)
  3. For specific guys you should and should not target make sure to check out Justin Winn’s article on using QB AYA regression to find 2014 RB targets.  (back)
  4. This is where I’d do a sweet rewind effect if this were a documentary.  (back)
  5. Cameron’s 9-108-1 in Week 1, 2013, and Graham’s 9-116-2 in Week 9, 2013  (back)
  6. 14 games for the general TEs and 4 games for the top five TEs.  (back)
  7. In other words it’s a return to the original scenario and includes both games where Cameron played without Gordon in 2013.  (back)
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2 comments
Justin Winn
Justin Winn

In most of my drafts he's going squarely in the 5th round, and I got him in the 6th today. This article actually makes me feel a little better, since I think he's a steal at that point if he can duplicate last year's production.

pkerrane
pkerrane

@Justin Winn Yea I don't mind him so much in the 6th.  Basically I think he belongs in the middle class TE tier with guys like Davis, Olsen, Reed, Witten etc.  rather than a borderline elite TE option going a round after Gronk & Thomas.  I'd probably rather have Reed in the 7th or Green in the 10th but I think the 6th round is where Cameron's upside as an athletic/young TE starts to balance out the risk surrounding his situation.