Spotlight: Jabar Gaffney

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 7th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Things haven't gone according to plan for Jabar Gaffney. When he was selected by the Houston Texans in the 2nd round of the 2002 NFL draft out of the University of Florida, he was expected to emerge as a fixture on a young expansion offense; and was supposed to pair with David Carr to set the tone for an emerging offense. It just never came together for him in Houston. In four seasons, he averaged 43 receptions for 502 yards and 2 TDs. His best fantasy finish as a Texan was WR51. The Patriots picked up Gaffney in 2006 as a backup, and he really didn't do much that first season (11 for 142 and 1 TD). Over the next two seasons, he earned an important complementary role as the slot receiver...but his numbers still didn't add up to much. As a Patriot, he never had more than 38 receptions, 468 yards or 5 TDs. In New England, he never finished higher than WR64. In spite of pedestrian numbers, Gaffney was brought over from New England to the Denver Broncos as part mentor, part contributor under new head coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels knew exactly what he was getting; having been Gaffney's offensive coordinator in New England.

To look at his 2009 stats, they don't seem any more impressive than the rest of his decidedly average career.

  • 54 receptions
  • 732 yards
  • 2 TDs
  • WR51

By now you should be asking yourself, why are we bothering with a Player Spotlight on a 29-year old journeyman that has never cracked the TOP 50 among fantasy receivers?

"The Game"

Week 17...January 3, 2009...Denver vs. Kansas City
Brandon Marshall was out of the lineup, and the Broncos were limping to the end of a miserable second half that completely derailed the momentum McDaniels built in the early months. Denver would end up getting TROUNCED in that game 44-24. But something strange happened. Jabar Gaffney...Mr. Journeyman...got the start and was targeted NINETEEN times. Gaffney ended the day with 14 receptions for 213 yards, marking one of the strangest breakout games in a long, long time. So what are we to make of Gaffney's breakout game, if anything?

Just for fun, I thought I would look back to see how many times a receiver caught 14 or more receptions in a game. In the modern era, it's only happened 36 times. As I scanned down the list of names, it seemed to me that in almost all cases, the player in question also happened to be a full-time starter. So I took the list and checked it against game logs, looking to see whether the player was a starter for the majority of the season.

First Last Date Team Opp Recs Yds YPR TDs Starter? YearN+1FPTs N+1FantRank
Kellen Winslow* 12/11/1983 SDG KAN 14 162 11.6 3 Yes 78.3 12
Kellen Winslow* 10/7/1984 SDG GNB 15 157 10.5 0 Yes 31.8 38
Ozzie Newsome* 10/14/1984 CLE NYJ 14 191 13.6 0 Yes 101.1 7
Steve Largent* 10/18/1987 SEA DET 15 261 17.4 3 Yes 76.5 46
Al Toon 11/27/1988 NYJ MIA 14 181 12.9 0 Yes 81.3 44
Flipper Anderson 11/26/1989 RAM NOR 15 336 22.4 1 Yes 133.7 12
Andre Rison 9/4/1994 ATL DET 14 193 13.8 2 Yes 88.1 45
Cris Carter 10/2/1994 MIN ARI 14 167 11.9 0 Yes 239.1 4
Andre Reed 11/20/1994 BUF GNB 15 191 12.7 2 Yes 49.2 76
Jerry Rice* 11/20/1994 SFO RAM 16 165 10.3 3 Yes 274.8 1
Herman Moore 12/4/1995 DET CHI 14 183 13.1 1 Yes 183.6 6
Jerry Rice* 12/18/1995 SFO MIN 14 289 20.6 3 Yes 173.4 4
Isaac Bruce 12/24/1995 STL MIA 15 210 14.0 1 Yes 175.8 8
Keenan McCardell 10/20/1996 JAX STL 16 232 14.5 0 Yes 146.4 17
Tim Brown 12/21/1997 OAK JAX 14 164 11.7 0 Yes 155.2 15
Courtney Hawkins 11/1/1998 PIT TEN 14 147 10.5 1 Yes 28.5 100
Marvin Harrison 12/26/1999 IND CLE 14 138 9.9 0 Yes 225.3 2
Jimmy Smith 1/2/2000 JAX CIN 14 165 11.8 0 Yes 185.3 6
Jimmy Smith 9/10/2000 JAX BAL 15 291 19.4 3 Yes 185.3 6
Terrell Owens 12/17/2000 SFO CHI 20 283 14.2 1 Yes 237.2 2
Rod Smith 9/23/2001 DEN ARI 14 162 11.6 2 Yes 132.7 22
Troy Brown 9/22/2002 NWE KAN 16 176 11.0 1 Yes 71.2 60
Marvin Harrison 11/17/2002 IND DAL 14 138 9.9 2 Yes 187.2 5
David Boston 10/5/2003 SDG JAX 14 181 12.9 2 Yes - 0
Tony Gonzalez 1/2/2005 KAN SDG 14 144 10.3 0 Yes 120.0 3
Steve Smith 11/20/2005 CAR CHI 14 169 12.1 0 Yes 121.4 8
Chris Chambers 12/4/2005 MIA BUF 15 238 15.9 1 Yes 91.7 37
Anquan Boldin 9/23/2007 ARI BAL 14 181 12.9 2 Yes 169.8 7
Bobby Engram 11/4/2007 SEA CLE 14 139 9.9 1 Yes 48.9 82
Jason Witten 12/9/2007 DAL DET 15 138 9.2 1 Yes 119.2 2
Brandon Marshall 9/14/2008 DEN SDG 18 166 9.2 1 Yes 172.0 9
Dallas Clark 11/8/2009 IND HOU 14 119 8.5 0 Yes TBD TBD
Wes Welker 11/22/2009 NWE NYJ 15 192 12.8 0 Yes TBD TBD
Jason Witten 12/6/2009 DAL NYG 14 156 11.1 0 Yes TBD TBD
Brandon Marshall 12/13/2009 DEN IND 21 200 9.5 2 Yes TBD TBD
Jabar Gaffney 1/3/2010 DEN KAN 14 213 15.2 0 No TBD TBD

In EVERY other case, the player was a starter for the majority of the season. So Gaffney, quite literally, did something no player in modern history had done. But that also raises the question about whether it was the monster of anomalies, or a sign of things to come.

The Opportunity
Here's the bull case for Jabar Gaffney this year. He's stuck around the league because he's a consummate professional, does most things well (but none great), and has earned the trust of his coaches. Josh McDaniels knows Gaffney and respects his approach to the game. The Broncos sent Brandon Marshall to Miami, Eddie Royal was abysmal last season, and neither rookie Demaryius Thomas nor Erick Decker are polished enough for full-time roles this year. As if that weren't enough, TE Tony Scheffler, the only legitimate receiving TE on the roster, has also left town. Kyle Orton needs SOMEONE to throw to, and who better than Gaffney?

The Counter Argument
Gaffney's resume is pedestrian AT BEST. The Broncos are shaping up to be a team with serious risks...from Kyle Orton's uneven play to LT Ryan Clady's injury to the unimpressive play of the interior offensive line. Denver may have no reason to plug a steady veteran in the lineup for long, particularly if the team is in full blown rebuilding mode by mid-season. In that scenario, why not put Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in the rotation? You also have to consider how unusual that Week 17 game was. The Broncos were getting blown out, and Kyle Orton threw the ball 51 times. So EVERYONE was getting more targets than they could reasonably expect to in a normal game. Extrapolating a breakout season for a 9-year journeyman based on one out-of-the-ordinary game is not generally a recipe for fantasy success.

The Definition of a Late Round Flier
I genuinely think Jabar Gaffney has the chance to lead the Broncos in targets, receptions and yards. But that may not be saying much. Simply put, if he DOES lead the team, it's because the wheels have essentially come off. This team would much rather Eddie Royal recapture his rookie touch. Or have Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker emerge as 1st year players. While I think those outcomes are unlikely, they can't be counted out. So while a "breakout" season is possible, that really means little more than a POSSIBLE Top 30 fantasy finish, as a low end WR3 or high end WR4. That's Gaffney's UPSIDE. The only reason to pay any attention to a guy like that is in your end game. Most leagues will be deep enough that you'll come out of your draft with 6 or 7 receivers; Gaffney should be that last guy on your roster. If he goes back to being the part-time guy he's always been, then you cut him when you make your waiver claims. But in the off chance last year's 14-catch game really was the harbinger of good things - then you got a guy on the cheap who just might find his way into your lineup a few times during the season.

Positives

  • Gaffney caught 14 passes for more than 200 yards last year when he started in place of Brandon Marshall
  • He's intimately familiar with the Broncos offense, and Josh McDaniels actively recruited him after coaching him in New England
  • The Broncos lost Marshall and Scheffler in the offseason, and there are no WRs on the roster that inspire much confidence

Negatives

  • Gaffney has been in the league for 8 years (this will be his ninth) and he's yet to crack the Top 50 at his position
  • His "break out" game was in a blowout loss where the QB threw 51 times and more than 400 yards
  • The Broncos have every incentive to give rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker lots of playing time, particularly if they start off poorly and begin looking at 2011

Final thoughts

Gaffney is a sneaky end game option, particularly in PPR leagues. He could be the top guy in Denver simply because someone has to be. But his "best" might still be marginal in fantasy terms. And there are plenty of ways Gaffney could be completely ineffective and waiver wire fodder. So don't get caught up in the hype of his being in the starting lineup and reach for him. Take him as you last WR and just watch and see if the stars align. At that price, it won't hurt you at all if you need to cut bait and pick up someone off waivers.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Creed Bratton:

Jabar Gaffney just isn't that good of a receiver. I don't know how anybody with his talent level can be considered a must draft player. I understand why you're saying that he's undervalued because his ADP is ridiculously low and I agree that he is a value play. I wouldn't be surprised if I end up with him because he should be valued over Eddie Royal and Thomas but on the other hand I could see either of those players outperforming him or even some unknown free agent. What upside do you realistically think that he has? Am I really that wrong for thinking he's just a journeyman receiver with nothing more than a fluky chance of putting up a thousand yard season over 16 games?

BucFan40 said:

I'm not riding on the bandwagon just yet, but unless his ADP starts rising, he'll be a great addition in the later rounds. I wouldn't be confident with him as my 1, 2 or even 3 receiver, but he could be a great flex/bye week guy with upside. At his current ADP I think he's well worth a roster spot. My best guess is 60/800/6 which would be a steal in rounds 13+

Grid71 said:

Gaffney does look like a good value at his current ADP because he is the most experienced receiver in Denver and should be their #1 WR in week 1. However, it is hard to get too excited about a guy who couldn't make it in Houston. He wasn't all that impressive as a #3 WR in New England either. How will an average receiver fare against #1 NFL cornerbacks and Orton tossing the rock? Really.

Projecting success by looking at the last two weeks of the season where he blew up against Philly and had a career game against KC would be folly. No way will opposing defenses allow Gaffney to beat them with no other threats at WR or TE to speak of. 59 receptions for 702 yards and 4 TDs.

I would definitely still draft Gaffney at his current ADP banking on Orton force feeding the ball to him in the first few weeks inflating his value. There is always a stud out there who has a terrible week 1 and the owner starts to panic.

TheDirtyWord said:

If I'm going to spend a late round draft choice on a player, I'd like for them to 1) have some upside or 2) demonstrated past success - maybe have one last fleeting success. Gaffney looks like he should be a good sleeper, but:

1) Aside from Brady's 50 TD season where Gaffney snagged 5 TD receptions, he's never had more than 2.

2) His 732 yards last season represented a career high, and that was only with the help of a ridiculous 14/213 effort against a checked out KC squad in Week 17.

...to me, even though there are many receptions to be had now with Marshall off to Florida, does Gaffney now draw tougher coverage opposition wee k in week out? How will Kyle Orton fare now without a true #1 WR? Also, you have the Tebow factor. We all speculate that this guy won't see the field in 2010. But I could see McDaniels saying in November "It's Tebow time", if the Broncos have tanked. What then?

I know you mentioned Royal as being a terrible starter last year and it would be tough to argue. But he showed much more in his rookie year and if he's going to be lining up in the slot this year, that might be a better fit for him in McDaniels system. He might come back strong.

Overall, Gaffney is a journeyman. A solid football player who finds a significant role but as a fantasy player, simply rarely makes an impact. He's a Bobby Engram type. A player who someone will draft in a late round and when he doesn't produce, will find himself on the waiver wire quickly with many other 800/4 type WR's.

Ministry of Pain said:

Kyle Orton will throw for at least 3,000 yards. Denver's running game and their run blocking along the interior of their line is putird. They do have some decent pass blocking OT and even the interior can pass block some as well. With time to throw Orton is going to find Gaffney enough to blow way past the nubmers the rest of you are projecting.

I understand Gaffney has been a mediocre WR at best but McDaniels loves him and has brought him along to NE and now Denver. I harken back to a WR Martz brought in during his reign in Detroit as OC, what was his name? Ah yes, Shaun McDonald had a career best 79 receptions, 943 yds, and 6 TDs. He didn't do much before that season and he really hasn't done a lot since. So does McDonald have no talent or did it take a certain coach to bring that out of him? Maybe it was the system but Gaffney likes McDaniels system. He was the WR4 in NE, certainly was never going to take time away from Moss and Welker so those stats are irrelevent and he wasn't gonna bump Brandon Marshall out of the way either but he's going to get a shot this year.

Fools will mock and laugh but try and breakdown the receiving numbers with Orton throwing for 3,000 yds. How much to the backs and TEs? Can't be a ton, maybe 800-1,000? Leave 2,000 for the WRs and I feel safe in Gaffney grabbing about 35-40% of that.

I project him for 4 catches a game so 64/800/6Tds...nothing flashy but he's a solid WR3/4, bye week special, those numbers would put him int he top30 from last year IIRC. And I think he could creep a little higher if Denver ends up in some shootouts which they will with that defense.

rzrback77 said:

Jabar Gaffney is the poster child for opportunity over talent. The Broncos season could very well be a train wreck. How do you merge those two sentences?

Gaffney is entering his ninth season and his second on the Broncos. He was orginally drafted in the second round, but has never been more than mediocre. He has a career 61.0% reception rate which is average, but his career ypc is 12.3. He has scored 17 TDs on 310 catches with only one season in his eight that he had over two and as already mentioned that was Brady's 50 TD season, which kind of stands out already.

It seems like he is a fantasy bargain going currently as the WR 53 and 150 overall, but consider this. In his previous eight NFL seasons, he has never finished the end of a year ranked better than WR 51. That seems to validate his ADP. I just don't see him flourishing as the top WR. I think that his best chance at a good season is if one or both of Royal and Thomas really show up so that he can play the underneath possession role. Look closely at the numbers below. They represent a career year for the eight year veteran and represent an average game of 3.8 catches for 45 yards nad 0.25 TDs.


Jabar Gaffney projections

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Jason Wood65800400
Message board consensus63784500