Stock Watch: Antonio Gandy-Golden

Stock Watch: Antonio Gandy-Golden

This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.

Unfortunately, promising second-year Washington wideout Kelvin Harmon will miss the season after suffering a torn ACL, leaving one of the league's most unproven wideout rotations even thinner yet. Harmon was highly productive at North Carolina State before Washington selected him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, and he went on to do well for himself as a rookie, playing 493 snaps and drawing 44 targets. Having only turned 22 in mid-December, Harmon's future remains bright beyond 2020.

Despite the loss, and despite their lack of proven commodities, there's still a way Washington could put forth an adequate wide receiver rotation in 2020. Terry McLaurin is a star-caliber WR1, and Steven Sims has shown hints of breakout potential as a slot target. As it specifically relates to the Harmon development, though, it's Antonio Gandy-Golden who's the most important remaining question.

Looking Backward

A rookie fourth-round pick out of Liberty, Gandy-Golden brings a different build and skill set to the position than any of the other Washington wideouts. Harmon is a big receiver at 6-2 ½, 221, but Gandy-Golden offers a bigger contrast yet at 6-4, 223. Thanks in part to that taller frame, Gandy-Golden offers a more convincing downfield threat than Harmon, who generally profiles best as an intermediate route runner. Despite a poor 40 time (4.6 seconds), Gandy-Golden's standout explosiveness testing (36-inch vertical, 127-inch broad jump) hints at a field speed superior to what his time from the 40 track implies. The basic appeal here is that Gandy-Golden possesses an uncommonly tall (90th percentile) and heavy (91st percentile) frame, yet according to Mockdraftable his vertical and broad jump registered at the 57th and 86th percentiles, respectively. If a wide receiver can get away with a poor 40 time, you could find a worse candidate than the guy who's bigger than 90 percent of receivers yet can beat 85 percent of the same sample in the broad jump.

In addition to a big frame with somewhat convincing linear explosiveness, Gandy-Golden's prospect profile benefits from high-level collegiate production. You'll commonly hear Gandy-Golden's production criticized because it occurred at a low level of competition, but the premise doesn't stick when you adjust for context. Not only did Gandy-Golden produce tremendous volume – 240 receptions for 3,814 yards and 33 touchdowns in 44 career games – but he both anchored the Liberty passing game with his volume and outplayed the baseline efficiency of the Liberty passing game. If Gandy-Golden's elite production is a result of his level of competition, then other players on his team should be capable of producing like him, especially since the bull's eye is on his back instead of theirs. That never happened.

Luckily, we have comprehensive target data from Gandy-Golden's final two years at Liberty. In that span the Flames' offense completed 502 of 900 passes for 6,894 yards and 50 touchdowns (55.8 percent completed, 7.66 YPA). Gandy-Golden drew 273 of those targets, catching 150 receptions for 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns (55.0 percent catch rate, 8.9 YPT). The catch rate lag of 0.8 percent is trivial, especially since Gandy-Golden outplayed the YPA by 1.24 yards while carrying a 35.3 percent yardage share burden. This is elite production, and the fact that he just turned 22 in April means there's no age-adjustment penalty on that production.

Here's what it all looks like in practice.

Anyone with lingering concerns about Gandy-Golden's level of competition should consider what he did as a true sophomore – at just under 19.5 years old – in a road game against Baylor in 2017. In what was then-head coach Matt Rhule's Baylor debut, playing at home no less, Liberty upset the Bears 48-45. Gandy-Golden was arguably the main reason Liberty won, drawing 22 targets and catching 13 for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Gandy-Golden carried 43 percent of the team's passing yardage in the game, almost single-handedly propelling Liberty through the shootout.

Looking Ahead

Nothing is ever certain with prospects, but we mostly have reason to believe Gandy-Golden will be an effective outside, downfield-oriented receiver in the NFL. He's not quite the same player as Harmon, though, and there are certain tasks at which one is better than the other. As much as Harmon can't challenge Gandy-Golden downfield, there's a chance that Gandy-Golden can't quite play the underneath and intermediate as well as Harmon. This is generally fine – Gandy-Golden couldn't realistically compete with McLaurin or Sims for targets underneath, and quarterback Dwayne Haskins has the arm to otherwise capitalize on the downfield threat posed by AGG. Still, it's something to keep in mind when projecting AGG's specific usage tendencies in the Washington offense.

Harmon drew 44 targets on 493 snaps last year, generating 1.01 air yards per snap (34th percentile) while running at an ADOT of 11.3 yards (56th percentile). Generally speaking, the higher the ADOT the more downward pressure on the per-snap target rate, because it's easier for a quarterback to hit a short pass than a downfield one. This general rule seems apparent in Harmon's sample from last year, where his intermediate functions were at once efficient (68.2 percent catch rate, 8.3 YPT) yet only situationally viable. As long as McLaurin and Sims remain on the field, this situational viability will likely apply to AGG as well, both because his strength lies in the most difficult task (downfield throws) and because it's difficult for anyone to get open underneath as well as McLaurin or Sims do.

Given Gandy-Golden's superior downfield threat relative to Harmon, we might project Gandy-Golden to run at a higher ADOT than Harmon's 11.3 figure, which could invite more downward pressure on Gandy-Golden's per-snap target rate. However, Gandy-Golden's superior traits in this capacity should yield a higher per-snap air yardage than Harmon did, more or less breaking even with the decreased target rate if so. If the ADOT does prove higher in Gandy-Golden's case, then we should probably assume a catch rate well below Harmon's impressive 68.2 percent figure.

In 2019 McLaurin, Sims, Harmon, Trey Quinn and Paul Richardson combined for 2,445 snaps. Going forward McLaurin will play every snap he's physically able – upwards of 1,000 per 16 games. Sims should be the next-most active pass catcher, but as a slot specialist he'll head to the bench in a lot of one and two-wide formations, capping his projection around 650 or so snaps per 16 games. With Harmon subtracted from the picture, there could be as many as 750 snaps available to Gandy-Golden in his rookie season.

If Harmon drew 0.09 targets and 1.01 air yards per snap at an 11.3 ADOT then we might loosely project AGG for 0.08 targets at some greater per-snap air yardage and ADOT, perhaps upwards of 13 yards in the latter case. Particularly if the baseline of the Washington offense fails to improve, we'd sooner project AGG to catch 58 percent of his targets than the 68 percent in Harmon's 2019 case. On 700 snaps this would project to something like 56 targets, of which roughly 32 are caught. Given that Harmon's 8.3 YPT figure from last year outpaced the Washington baseline by 1.6 yards, we should probably be hesitant to project so generously in AGG's case – as much as AGG is a candidate to outproduce the baseline in his own case, there would be no shame if a rookie like him fell below the baseline instead, especially if he makes his living by drawing the highest-difficulty downfield targets. Even if Haskins or/and Kyle Allen improve in 2020, we should sooner expect AGG to average around 7.0 yards per target than the 8.3 Harmon did. Still, all it takes is one or two big plays to spike the sample up over 8.0, and AGG's game lends itself well to that possibility.

If it all goes right for Gandy-Golden then he might emerge as something like another Mike Williams (LAC), or maybe a slower but much heavier version of Tyrell Williams. He's liable to go stretches without targets perhaps, but his prospect profile implies he could reliably produce downfield damage on the targets he does get. Not to mention, with a frame like his AGG could project as a standout red-zone option for Washington. In the meantime, you can probably rank AGG about the same as wherever you ranked Harmon for 2020.

2020 projection: 32 receptions for 464 yards and four touchdowns (56 targets, 700 snaps)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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