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Former Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon is lighting up the XFL

One of the biggest “What if...” stories in recent NFL history, Gordon left New England in 2019.

Seattle Sea Dragons v DC Defenders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Josh Gordon will always remain one of the biggest “What if...” stories in recent NFL history. He had all the talent in the world and was impressive when on the field, but he simply could not stay there.

Now, the 31-year-old is trying his luck in another league — and putting up some impressive numbers. Playing for the Seattle Sea Dragons of the reborn XFL, Gordon is dominating his competition.

Through three games with the team, he has caught 13 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. While he is neither leading the Sea Dragons in receptions and yards — that honor belongs to fellow wide receiver Jahcour Pearson’s 23 for 272 — he is looking a lot like the player he was during his time in the NFL: a consistent big-play threat.

He is the league’s leader among qualifying players with 17.3 yards per catch, and his three scores are tied for the XFL lead. Gordon also is responsible for the longest play from scrimmage in the league’s young history, a 65-yard game-winning touchdown reception from Seattle quarterback Ben DiNucci in his most recent game.

Gordon’s successful return to football, albeit at a lower level than the NFL, is an encouraging development given his career history.

Selected in the second round of the NFL supplemental draft in 2012, Gordon already had a successful rookie season with the Cleveland Browns. He really broke out one year later, though, earning first-team All-Pro honors after catching 87 passes and nine touchdowns with a league-best 1,646 receiving yards.

That 2013 season was a taste of what Gordon’s potential was, and what his issues were. He did miss the first two games of the year after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

It would not be his last run-in with the league’s rules.

Gordon was suspended an additional 10 games the following season, before missing all of 2015 and 2016 as well. He did not return to the field until December 2017, almost three full years after his last game. He finished that abbreviated season averaging 67 yards per game, the second-highest such number of his career.

Gordon, still only 27 at that point, was traded to the New England Patriots early in the 2018 regular season. He made an immediate impact for his new team, catching 40 passes for 720 yards with three scores over his first 11 games.

However, Gordon was again served with another indefinite suspension in later December after he violated the terms of his original reinstatement. He missed the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl LIII as a result, but the team was open to working with him — retaining him on a second-round restricted free agency tender the following offseason.

Gordon returned in August, and looked good early on in the season. Appearing in the Patriots’ first six games of the 2019 season, he caught 20 passes for 287 yards with another TD. Again, however, it was not meant to last.

He was placed on injured reserve in October, and eventually released off the list a short time later. Gordon was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks, suspended for a fifth time, and eventually tried unsuccessful comebacks in Kansas City and Tennessee. He caught 12 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown after leaving New England.

It took him three games in the XFL to surpass that production.

As with all things Josh Gordon, however, the story is far more complex than any numbers.

For now, it appears he has found some stability. And even though he left the team more than three years ago, Patriots fans should be happy about that.