Jordan Cameron: 2014 Value Brownout?
Jordan Cameron was a hardcore fantasy football player’s kind of fantasy football player in 2013. Identified as a sleeper early in the offseason, his profile rose steadily throughout spring and summer for smart, tangible reasons. His profile is that of a highly athletic, sure-handed tight end whose principal constraints are external in nature. Yet Cameron still offered solid equity when rosters were finally chosen in August.
Despite his palpable buzz, Cameron was the 14th tight end chosen and could typically be plucked in the 10th round according to myfantasyleague.com ADP data. He ended 2013 as the sixth highest PPR league scorer at his position despite missing Week 16. In fact, through half of 2013 he was second only to Jimmy Graham among tight ends. From that point on he was 21st, a ranking aided greatly by a nine catch, one touchdown, 121-yard effort in New England.
The wheels started falling off around midseason for several reasons. The most commonly identified culprit was quarterback play. The Browns were the only team in the league that had three different quarterbacks exceed 100 dropbacks, and Cameron’s performance was predictably mixed depending on who took snaps.
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First things first, let’s raise a glass for Cameron now that he is rid of the two-headed succubus that was Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. While there is lukewarm support for Brian Hoyer, and Cameron did score roughly twice as many points per game with him, be wary of someone who brings two of their ugliest friends to the bar. They rarely appear attractive by themselves in the morning light.
Then again, 23.8 points per game is exceptional, no matter what the quarterback looks like. Hoyer ranked as fantasy’s seventh best passer during those heady weeks as Cleveland’s starter. Cameron should be safely in his adequate hands come September, assuming it really is Hoyer’s mitts taking snaps from center-of-the-offseason, Alex Mack.
The Browns have been linked to everyone from Johnny Manziel to Kirk Cousins. They boast three of the first 35 picks in the draft, including fourth overall, and have ample chance to select (or trade for) a passer of the future. While that may be a boon for Cameron’s long-term value, it would be a decided negative for his 2014 outlook.
Cameron’s 2013 performance was actually more volume-dependent than his reputation as an explosive seam-splitter would have us believe. Among qualified tight ends, Cameron ranked 53rd in yards after catch per reception (3.0), 27th in yards per reception (11.5), and 20th in yards per route run (1.46). At those rates, he would need to continue to catch a ton of passes to maintain his fantasy output.
Cameron received 19 redzone targets and scored seven touchdowns. The five tight ends who scored more than he did averaged 21.1 redzone targets and 11.4 touchdowns. While he is undoubtedly athletic and tough to handle in tight quarters, it is no coincidence that his best weeks came when he was targeted 20 times in two games, with six redzone looks. Can that level of workload be counted on again, even if it is Hoyer behind center?
The Browns ranked 31st when it came to frequency of handoffs (32.2%) in 2013. Cleveland’s new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, called run on 40.9 percent of plays last year (18th most) while he had the same role in Washington, and 52.2 percent the prior season (2nd most). The Browns signed arguably the best running back available when they inked Ben Tate. Cleveland is going to hand the ball off quite a bit more in 2014.
Even if Cameron maintains a sizable slice of the Browns’ passing game (NFL high 681 attempts in 2013), it will still be smaller due to the entire pie shrinking. His 109 targets tied for the third most among tight ends, and he played the fourth most snaps at his position (1008). Bear in mind that he missed Week 16 and played half of Week 17 due to his second significant concussion in two seasons. His per game workload will decrease, and not only because the Browns will pass less frequently.
Cameron (-11.4) was PFF’s 56th graded run blocking tight end out of 64 who qualified (25% snaps minimum). He ranked second in pass routes run out of the slot (375), and 60.3 percent of his snaps originated there. A complete tight end he is not. While fewer snaps in 2014 is a foreboding forecast, perhaps the efficiency of his performances will rise. It had better.
One of the aforementioned “smart, tangible” reasons that Cameron’s profile rose last offseason was due to departing offensive coordinator Norv Turner. He and Cleveland’s ex-head coach Rob Chudzinski are renowned tight end maximizers, and in 2014 will take their talents to Minnesota and Indianapolis, respectively.
Shanahan, who has coordinated offenses with strong fantasy performers like Owen Daniels and Fred Davis, is not known to be quite as tight end friendly as Chudzinski’s regime. Chris Cooley was the only tight end during Shanahan’s three seasons in Washington to see double digit redzone targets (11). Daniels hit 10 during both of Shanahan’s seasons in Houston. Those highs, while notable, are still a far cry from Cameron’s 19.
By no means will Cameron be ignored. Daniels averaged nearly six targets per game under Shanahan, and Cooley saw 116 in 2010. Yet the coaching change can be viewed as another negative, however slight. The possibility of the Browns drafting a top wideout, further diluting a dwindling pool of pass attempts, has not yet been mentioned. Nor the fact that they signed Andrew Hawkins to man the slot where Cameron lined up so often last season. Never mind that the Browns’ defense should continue to improve, necessitating fewer shootouts.
A pessimist would say that Cameron is being projected too highly based mainly on one half season of outstanding, if volume-dependent, production. He will face increased competition for a constricting supply of opportunities in an offense that, while undoubtedly held back by poor quarterback play, has a comparable near-term outlook in that area. He has a history of concussions and plays a high-impact position, one that will not be promoted as heavily as it was under the previous coaching regime.
Cameron is currently being drafted as the fourth tight end, and he is coming off the board in the late fourth or early fifth rounds according to myfantasyleague.com early ADP data. He is at the top of the second tier of tight ends, or perhaps the third if Julius Thomas is considered a tier unto himself after Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. Several options, some being drafted multiple rounds later, offer similar upside with fewer unknowns. Luckily at least a couple of those questions will be answered between now and this summer, when the drafting bullets become live.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman
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