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Spotlight: Brandon Lloyd

posted by Mike Brown on Aug 6th


Mike Brown's thoughts

Brandon Lloyd's entire career has been full of him doing the unexpected (most of it not in a positive way either). At times, he has tantalized with seemingly limitless potential. At others, he seemed to have one foot out the door of an extremely underwhelming NFL career.

The low point of his career probably came in 2009, when he played in just two games and caught a total of eight passes. This came on the heels of three straight highly disappointing seasons, and found Lloyd on his fourth team in five seasons. Then just as suddenly as he had faded into oblivion, he emerged as the league's most valuable fantasy wide receiver in 2010. With incredible consistency, Lloyd put up a season for the ages, compiling over 1,400 receiving yards and eleven touchdowns. He thrived under the offensive system of Josh McDaniels and the QB play of Kyle Orton.

Heading into 2011, fantasy owners were still on the fence about Lloyd. He had just put up phenomenal stats, but it was also the first time in his career he had been a worthwhile fantasy player. McDaniels was gone as the head coach, replaced by the conservative John Fox. And there was a brewing quarterback controversy with second-year man Tim Tebow squaring off against the incumbent Orton. Lloyd got off to a pretty strong start with Orton under center, putting up 18 receptions for 263 yards over his first three games of the season. In Tebow's first significant action against San Diego, Lloyd caught just one ball in the game. Owners never did get a chance to see what Lloyd would do with Tebow, as later that week, the Broncos traded Lloyd to the Saint Louis Rams. Initially, fantasy owners were excited at the prospect of Lloyd being reunited with McDaniels (who was now the Rams' offensive coordinator) and playing with an up-and-coming quarterback in second-year man Sam Bradford. And the combo didn't disappoint, as Lloyd hauled in touchdowns in four of his first five games in a Rams uniform. But as the season went along, it became more and more apparent that this wasn't exactly an electric offense Lloyd was playing in. He didn't register a 100-yard game until the season finale, and as the only significant receiving threat on the team, the attention on him caused a four game stretch of insignificant fantasy production.

Lloyd was a free agent after the 2011 season, and opted to sign with the New England Patriots, once again reunited with McDaniels (who was released from his Rams contract and joined the New England staff as the offensive assistant coach). He'll be expected to serve as the team's deep ball threat and will be working with more Pro Bowlers than he's ever seen before. The biggest question fantasy owners have now is this: is the sudden wealth of talent around Lloyd a positive or a negative for his fantasy prospects?

Positives

  • Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks of his generation, perhaps of all-time. Lloyd has put up very solid numbers over the past two seasons with the likes of Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and Sam Bradford throwing him the ball. This is the best QB Lloyd will ever play with.
  • Lloyd is back with Josh McDaniels, who has helped Lloyd to elevate his game to Pro Bowl levels. A motivated player, on a perennial playoff contender, with an established coaching staff, could be a perfect situation for a guy who is just a year removed from WR1 stats.
  • There are a number of weapons in New England, including Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez - meaning Lloyd can kind of sneak in under the radar and not draw the attention of the opposition's best defenders.

Negatives

  • As the expected fourth option in the offense, there is some concern that Lloyd will not be consistent enough from week to week in order to satisfy fantasy owners. There is a bigger concern that he won't put up enough stats to justify a fantasy spot in general. The fourth option on any offense - even one as prolific as New England's - is not generally a goldmine of fantasy scoring.
  • For all the hype of the last two seasons, Lloyd is still a receiver with exactly one 1,000-yard season in his entire career. He is also joining his sixth team in ten years. This isn't exactly Reggie Wayne in terms of consistency.
  • Lloyd's average draft position already has the expectation of improved statistics factored in. He's not being drafted as if he was the 25th best fantasy WR in 2011 (which he was) and not even a top-3 option on his team anymore. He's being taken at the back end of the fifth round and that is climbing quickly as the positives continue to roll in from training camp. Owners who have high hopes for his 2012 prospects won't be able to get him at much of a discount.

Final thoughts

Anyone who has seen Lloyd play on a regular basis knows that inherent talent has never been a problem for him. He regularly makes highlight reel catches, and you don't get to be the top wide receiver over an entire season solely on the basis of luck or the situation around you. The fact that he will now be playing in New England with a Hall of Fame quarterback and head coach for the first time can only bode well for his productivity.

It's very likely that Lloyd is the best deep threat the Patriots have had since Randy Moss. Now, nobody is suggesting that Lloyd will put up 20+ touchdowns anytime soon. Just on the basis of typical regression, it's unlikely that the tight end combo or Wes Welker will put up the earth-shattering statistics they put up in 2011. A lot of those catches, yards, and touchdowns have to go somewhere, and Lloyd is likely to receive the majority of those "extras". Factor in the expected typical workload of being the team's primary deep threat and starter opposite Wes Welker, and you've got the makings for a highly successful season even as the so-called fourth option.

Furthermore, his ceiling is far higher than most others. Some people are arguing that being the fourth option is a negative because there won't be enough footballs to go around. Some are arguing that being the fourth option is a positive because he won't draw as much attention from the defense. Both arguments are valid, so let's just focus for a minute on Lloyd's upside (or downside) if he wasn't the fourth option. Let's consider what would happen if he moved up to the third, second, or even first option for New England. If injuries were to befall several Patriots and Lloyd somehow ascended to the top spot, he has proven over the last two seasons that he can handle that position and post worthy fantasy stats as his team's top option -- even in a terrible offense. Now, you put him as the go-to guy in Brady's system with his talent and an increased workload, and you've got the makings of another potential run at the top spot in all of football. It's unlikely that the Patriots will be hit that hard by that many significant injuries, but the point is to show that there are not many players where you can secure a pretty solid fantasy floor who also carry as much upside as just about anyone in the league.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

David Yudkin (Footballguys.com Staff Writer) said:

Since 2009 and being paired with McDaniels, Lloyd ranks as the WR12 in fantasy ppg (0 ppr). Up until now, I would say playing in a McDaniels scheme has worked out well for Lloyd.

That being said, I don't see any way that Lloyd puts up numbers like he did in 2010 based on the fact that NE is loaded with weapons while the Broncos and Rams were not. For Lloyd to do well, that means other receivers and tight ends will have to suffer. I haven't tried figuring the breakdown for Pats players yet, so thus don't have a projection just yet. I also want to see who ends up on the Pats WR roster and depth chart to see which players will have a real piece of the pay and who might get crumbs.

TheDirtyWord said:

Last year, I was surprised by the lack of respect Lloyd seemed to garner coming off a 1400+ yard season. Obviously, his situation was murky at best even in TC with Orton/Tebow. And while his production wound up to a certain extent justifying the perception that he wasn't worth a high pick, I still believe Lloyd is chronically overlooked and underrated.

In 15 games last year, he put up 70/966/5 in situations where the QB state of affairs (and team situation) was as bad as it could get. In an era where 4000 yards has become a ho-hum milestone, Lloyd subsisted on the 30th & 31st ranked passing attacks in the NFL. And he still almost put up 1000 yards. He moves on to NE in a system he has thrived in with a coordinator who loves him and one of the best QB's in history and this has seemingly generated little to no buzz.

I've heard Tom Brady say before that he 'throws to the open' guy. With Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez combining for a ridiculous 169/2237/24 line (with a 71.3% catch rate), it seemed like because of the Pats TE size/speed combo, this was always the case. But for as productive and prolific as Tom Brady was in 2011, do you know how many passes Brady completed that travelled over 20 yards? 15! Over 30? 1 friggin' pass! By comparison, Brees completed 31 passes travelling over 20 yards. Rodgers - 30. Stafford - 22. Eli? - 37!!! In the last 3 seasons, Brady has only completed 45 of these. The fact of the matter is that Brady simply hasn't had weapons that he can exploit in this manner.

In 2011, with dilapidated passing attacks, Lloyd was only able to catch two passes that travelled over 20 yards. But in his breakout season of 2010, when this became his specialty? 16! He alone caught more passes of this variety than Brady had thrown for in 2011. So IMO, Lloyd fits this situation perfectly and I think he's going to surprise some people because for all those teams facing the Patriots, their first and second priorities are going to be to stop Gronk/Hernandez/Welker. And Lloyd will essentially be dealing with single coverage. So I expect Lloyd to bring the big downfield play element back to the Patriots in 2012. I suspect that this might be an area of focus for them early in the season since Belichick will be loathe to wait for teams to adjust to last years attack and will establish this years attack irrespective of that.

ZWK said:

I don't have the formation numbers, but here is the snap count for Patriots WRs and TEs in 2012:

95% Rob Gronkowski
89% Wes Welker
77% Aaron Hernandez
75% Deion Branch
51% other WRs (led by Ochocinco at 26%)

Aaron Hernandez missed 2 games, and Branch missed 1 and sat out most of week 17. If you leave out those 4 games (weeks 3, 4, 15, and 17), then other WR drops to 37% of the snaps (led by Ochocinco at 20%).

If Lloyd is on the field for 75% of the snaps (or more) like Branch was, then I think he's in good shape as a fantasy WR. If he splits those snaps with Gaffney or the other WRs, then not so much.


Brandon Lloyd projections

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