The Gut Check No. 248: The Insanity Series - Brandon Lloyd (With a Touch of Neurosis about Tom Brady)
By Matt Waldman
June 26th, 2012

The Insanity Series: Players That Will Drive You Mad in 2012

Every season there are players with appeal so strong that fantasy owners can't resist drafting them despite evidence that suggests otherwise. Likewise, there are also players with proven skill in great situations that fantasy owners still underestimate. This series is devoted to dispelling the illusions fantasy owners, football media, and fantasy analysts may have about them. My goal is to break through the wall of denial that exists regarding these players. While I'm aware that I might be the one who is ultimately deluded, these are players that I'm telling readers to be the naysayers or in this case, be the strong advocate when it comes to fantasy drafts.

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Brandon Lloyd: 2007-2009 Randy Moss Redux

At the Footballguys Staff Auction Draft in late May, the winning bid for Brandon Lloyd was $12 a dollar below the projected value I had him based on the current average draft value as the 26th receiver off the board. That is straight-up crackers. You might as well be having an Iron Chef-caliber meal specially prepared by Chef Morimoto for $12 a potential deal of a lifetime.

Brandon Lloyd is an Iron Chef among wide receivers. He can take ingredients in a passing offense considered common that might even be considered substandard like Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and make a five-star meal. His skill at adjusting to the football in the air on vertical routes and the red zone is on par with Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss. I'll put his best catches above any receiver I've ever seen.

Lloyd has never played with a quarterback possessing the accuracy, vertical skills, and conceptual understanding of the game that he'll have with Tom Brady. However, Brady had the joy of performing with a receiver with Lloyd's skill when the Patriots acquired Randy Moss. The results were inspiring.

Wide Receiver
Year
G
Rec
Rec Yds
Rec TDs
Fpts
Randy Moss
2007
16
98
1,493
23
287
Randy Moss
2009
16
83
1,264
13
204

Granted, Moss didn't have to compete for targets with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but Wes Welker did have three straight seasons with at least 110 receptions while Moss was a perennial 1,000-yard weapon in New England. By the time the Patriots' dynamic duo of tight ends arrived, Moss was on the outs with the organization and his motivation to play at his capable brilliance spiraled down the tubes. However, the reason Lloyd is not even considered a No. 2 fantasy starter at his position in a 12-team league has a lot to do with the presence of Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez in this offense.

Lloyd also comes to New England with a common link between him and the organization: Josh McDaniels. The former Patriots offensive coordinator brought out the best in Lloyd in Denver and for a limited time, St. Louis. McDaniels knows the games and style of Lloyd, Brady, and Belichick. That's a strong link. He's also the coordinator for the Pats during the Randy Moss era. Lloyd may not reach Moss' 2007 production, but I think a reasonable projection is within the realm of 1,100-1,300 yards and 8-15 touchdowns. The projected touchdowns are a wide spread, but I think even the low-end range makes him a top-12 receiver in 2012 and that's much more reasonable than 26th.

The Failure of Literal Thinking: When Projections Don't Match Football Sense

For Brandon Lloyd to perform as the 26th receiver off the board, his stats likely need to fall within the range of 120-135 points, which falls into some combination of 60-80 catches, 800-1,000 yards, and four to eight touchdowns. The only way these numbers are reasonable to me are if Lloyd is projected to reach at the top end of each production category, which would earn him 160-180 fantasy points and make him a top-10 fantasy receiver during most seasons. However, let me explain what I see as the reason his totals are projected lower by those participating in mock drafts.

The primary reason is a Patriots offense loaded with passing options. Fantasy owners are clearly worried about how much production there is to go around. Here's last year's production for the Patriots leading offensive stars:

Pos
Player
Yds
TDs
Points
Rank
QB
Tom Brady
5,235
39
462
3
WR
Wes Welker
1,569
9
214
3
WR
Chad Ochocinco
276
1
34
105
WR
Deion Branch
702
5
100
43
TE
Rob Gronkowski
1,327
17
241
1
TE
Aaron Hernandez
910
7
138
3

I think the reason for worry is centered on Brady and his trio of Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez, who combined for 3,800 of Brady's 5,200 yards. Fantasy owners are understandably cautious about projecting another near-record yardage season for Brady. They find that 4,000-4,5000 yards makes more sense, if not demonstrating the willingness to stretch to the limits of their optimism. I get it. Brady has only exceeded 4,000 yards four times in his career.

However, three of those four seasons occurred between 2007 and 2011. In fact, only an ACL tear in the first game of 2008 and 100 yards in 2010 away from the likelihood of reaching 4,000 yards passing for five consecutive seasons. Moreover, two of Brady's past five seasons exceeded 4,500 yards.

What I'm telling you is that most current projections of 4,000-4,200 yards is playing it too safe for a quarterback on top of his game with the two of the four best receiving tight ends in football, the best slot receiver in football, and now one of the three best vertical/red zone threats at wide receiver. I think 4,500 yards is the bare minimum total fantasy owners should project for Brady this year. I'm comfortable with 4,700-5,000 yards. Repeating a 5,200-yard season is possible, but I admit I'm probably in the minority in thinking so. Projecting Brady to build on that number and exceed it is too risky even for me.

Fantasy owners can some times be a contradiction with their thinking. They want to want to make excuses for quarterback production with the thought that If [insert quarterback name here] only had the surrounding talent he'd be a Pro Bowl player. However, they get stingy with the projections when that player acquires this kind of talent and not only demonstrates the ability to reach this level of production, but the rest of the league trended in the same direction.

Doesn't it seem like a contradiction in terms to predict a worse season for Brady and his offense after they had their best season without a Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver on the outside and now they got one? And more inexplicable, trending downward with a Pro Bowl caliber receiver paired with the offensive coordinator that knows how to use him better than anyone in the league and has experience and familiarity with the organization? What makes sense about that?

One line of thought is that defenses will adjust and fantasy owners should be prudent to account for that production. The only way I'm adjusting downward to 4,200 yards is if Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, or Aaron Hernandez misses significant time. And remember, Hernandez did miss significant time last year and still earned enough production to finish as the No.3 fantasy tight end. I think it will take two of those three players to get hurt for Brady's totals to drop. That, or they become a run-first team, which is bonkers.

Let's use 4,800 yards as Brady's projected 2012 totals a low-end number in my eyes and look at my take on the way the ball will be spread around the major players in the Patriots passing offense. The ranking in the table below is an estimation based on David Dodds' current projections. "N/A" means not projected in the Top 40 at their position.

Pos
Player
Yds
TDs
Rank
QB
Tom Brady
4,800
35
1
WR
Wes Welker
1,100
5
25
WR
Deion Branch
300
1
N/A
WR
Brandon Lloyd
1,100
11
7
TE
Rob Gronkowski
900
10
2
TE
Aaron Hernandez
800
8
6
Total
4,400
35

The total comes to 4,200, which leaves another 600 yards to account for other skill players in the offense not listed in this small group. Again, this is a low-end projection for Brady. I think it's reasonable to project another 200-300 yards of passing and another 5-7 touchdowns in the NFL's current offensive environment. I would split those totals among Welker, Branch, and Hernandez despite the fact Welker's touchdown totals never exceeded the range of three or four scores during the McDaniels Era in New England and I'm already giving him five. Since I believe 5,000 yards and 40-42 touchdowns as realistic, I think there's enough room for top-15 seasons from Welker and Lloyd and top-5 seasons for Hernandez and Gronkowski.

Lloyd represents significant value in this draft because, frankly, they're in denial. My recommendation is to target Lloyd and watch your competition curse for the next 17 weeks because they wish they did.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to waldman@footballguys.com.

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