Cecil Shorts: Unjustly Underrated In Dynasty Fantasy Football Leagues

Drafted out of Mount Union in the fourth round of the 2011, Cecil Shorts was slow to grasp the NFL game and its speed coming from a Division-III football program. Across dynasty leagues, he was virtually a fantasy afterthought prior to the 2012 season sitting at the end of rosters in some deeper leagues and mostly found on the waiver wire. Things changed quickly in week seven when he vaulted into fantasy relevance with some explosive games to close out the year.

After multiple double-digit target games and close to 1,000 yards receiving with Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert running the show, again, he’s pushed to the side and is quickly becoming a polarizing dynasty receiver. Many view him as an average WR3 and a strong WR4. That’s baffling considering his production in his situation with the Jaguars in 2012; WR2 seems more appropriate.

Many are concerned he’s the next Nate Burleson, which is understandable given that few, if any, expected this kind of production from him. That may be a mistake, though, as there are several positive metrics that suggest that Shorts’ 2012 season was not an anomaly. Several factors point to why we should expect to see more of this type of production from Shorts going forward.

Background

To ground everyone, Shorts finished the 2012 season as the#25 wide receiver in most PPR leagues posting 55 catches for 979 yards and nine touchdowns. He started nine games from week seven through the end of the season, but also missed two games due to concussions over that span.

Currently, he’s ranked as the 40th wide receiver by Pro Football Focus and the 30th by Dynasty League Football (considering only recent rankings). Recent startup mock drafts show he’s drafted anywhere between the #24 to #46 wide receiver with an average draft position of WR37, which is largely consistent with these rankings.

Analysis

As I’ve mentioned in some prior articles, the way I approach things is to dig through data on a number of players and determine if there are any interesting or surprising trends for a particular player. I thought I found something interesting last year with Michael Crabtree, as well as with Brent Celek. Two years ago it was Santonio Holmes and Rob Gronkowski. Why I bring this up is because I want to be transparent on my process. I don’t look at players and try to find metrics to support an argument. I merely run through numbers on countless players to see if I can find something compelling, especially if it’s counter to current thinking (either positively or negatively).  The prior year articles also show that sometimes this approach hits and sometimes it fails, but in the end (and as we know) there are always undervalued players. We just need to find them. I favor this approach.

Let’s move on and chew on some of the items working in Shorts’ favor and start by taking a look at his season by week:

 

His production when starting in 2012 is tremendous. In that situation, he posted 47 receptions for 774 yards receiving over a span of nine games. These are also the only games where he played more than 90% of the team’s snaps. Prior to that, he didn’t play more than 45% of the team’s snaps and typically played around 20%.

If he started a full 16 game season and maintained this production, his season would look like the following:

 

As you see in the prorated row, that would be a season well over 1,000 yards receiving and top ten in PPR leagues in each of the last three years on a total points basis and top 15 on a points per game basis. If you don’t want to predict touchdowns about double digits or you’re not comfortable prorating those, if we keep them consistent he would have finished in the top 18 on a total points basis in each of the last three years and top 16 on a points per game basis over that same span.

No question, his numbers support a top 15 to 20 ranking. Let’s not forget that Shorts accomplished this with both Gabbert and Henne under center – these two would be a long shot to start on any other NFL team and are likely to be destined as career backups. If they upgrade that spot at all, in 2013 or 2014, as expected, that’s only going to help Shorts. Another positive for him is his ability to play both the slot and outside, very similar to what Victor Cruz exhibits – that will give the Jaguars increased flexibility going forward with the ability to move him around.

With all the above being qualitative factors, here are some additional quantitative factors that are impressive:

1.) Shorts ranked 14th among receivers in targets per snap in 2012 as he was targeted on 15% of his snaps.

Shorts ranked ahead of players like Julio Jones, Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant, Hakeem Nicks, and Roddy White. If we remove his first five games, this drops a bit to 14%, which ranks #22 – that’s still up with the top players in the league.

2.) In 2012, Shorts established he could create separation, particularly over the middle, enabling either Jacksonville quarterback to rely on him.

As a result, he became a focal point of their offense. This is clear in the fact that he received double-digit targets in six of his final eight games. Many claim that this will change as Justin Blackmon matures, but Blackmon was targeted double-digits in five of those eight games, as well. Both Blackmon and Shorts were fixtures in the Jags’ passing game; it didn’t appear to be one over the other. If anything, they appear to have benefited from the presence of each other.

3.) Shorts’ yards after the catch totaled 465 yards, which ranked 10th among wide receivers.

That’s tremendous. This means that roughly half his yardage came after the catch. If you go back and watch clips pf his play, you see that this kid is a gamebreaker. He often caught the ball under 20 yards from scrimmage and broke it loose. Further supporting the gamebreaker status is his yards after the catch per reception which ranked second behind Percy Harvin among receivers with over 400 snaps (third among all receivers).

All the above facts support why Shorts could be considered a solid WR1 for dynasty purposes. However, there are certainly factors working against him. They include:

1.) He suffered two concussions at the end of the season.

That’s absolutely a long-term concern should he suffer another concussion next season as four (depending on the severity of all) could potentially end his career (similar to the early 2012 discussion on Greg Jennings) I don’t, however, compare him to Austin Collie or Jahvid Best as both appear to have suffered significant concussions that put them out for a significant period of time – Shorts only missed one game with his first 2012 concussion and was placed on injured reserve due to the proximity of the second. At this point, it discounts his value a bit, but not significantly. If it were three concussions or if it becomes three concussions, I’ll look to move on and avoid the risk.

2.) Shorts dropped nine passes last season, which ranked 15th among wide receivers in 2012.

His drops per targets is solid compared to the rest of the receivers, but the number of drops over the last few games is certainly a concern going forward and something he needs to improve on.

Considering all of this, I slate Shorts as a WR2 and ranked him as the #23 receiver in my recent rankings. So, I see him as a WR2 with top 15 upside. If the drops and concussion issues weren’t present, he’d be sitting in my top 10-15 wide receivers.

I’ve read several counter-arguments or downgrades to Shorts that are important to address:

1.) Justin Blackmon is the top receiver in Jacksonville going forward, which will limit Shorts’ targets.

As we saw above, both Blackmon and Shorts received double-digit targets and were both productive through the last half of the season. In fact, I’d argue that Blackmon and Shorts are mutually beneficial to each other’s production as defenses won’t be able to focus in on one over the other. In addition, Jacksonville ranked #24 in passing attempts in 2012 with 30 attempts per game. The fact that both of these guys were able to sustain the targets and production they did despite this is impressive enough. The current opportunity levels would appear to be as “rough” as it could get for the Jaguars passing game in terms of opportunities.

2.) It’s concerning that most of Shorts’ production came with Chad Henne and Gabbert is likely to be under center again in 2012.

This appears to be a common misconception. However, three of Shorts’ nine starts came with Gabbert. In those three games, Shorts was targeted 29 times with 17 receptions for 277 yards and a touchdown. In two of those games, his targets were double-digit and two games were 100 yards plus. That’s comparable to his production with Henne who quarterbacked five of Shorts’ nine starts (Note: Henne and Gabbert split the Jaguars’ snaps in week 7 so that’s excluded from the above).  Under Henne, Shorts received double-digit targets in three of the five starts and posted two 100 yard plus games. In addition, there isn’t a noticeable difference in Shorts’ average production with each quarterback as his targets, receptions, and yardage per game is almost identical with each guy.

3.) Laurent Robinson will return and could eat into Shorts’ opportunities.

Robinson has the talent and has performed in the past, but he can’t stay healthy. In addition, when he returned from injury in 2011, he was unable to reclaim his starting spot from Shorts. Secondly, if Robinson returns to form and contributes, it should only help the Jaguars’ passing game overall and result in an increase in the 30 attempts per game they had in 2012. I don’t view this is a negative.

Conclusion

If you don’t buy the WR2 argument, that’s fine. The hope is that, based on the information above, you’re convinced that Shorts is currently undervalued and needs to be targeted at his current average draft position or value.

Statistics sourced from ProFootballFocus.com

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