Dynasty Draft Profile: Melvin Gordon
May 1, 2015 | Rich Hribar
|21.7||73||215||32 3/8||9 3/4|
When looking at Melvin Gordon’s production profile, there’s no shortage of rushing production. He followed up an age 20 season in which he ran for 123.8 yards per game with one of the best rushing seasons in NCAA history. Second overall in fact, finishing just 41 rushing yards shy of Barry Sanders’ record setting 1988 season. That production isn’t entirely a byproduct of his system either, as Gordon is a better athlete than recent Wisconsin backs who have had a smorgasbord of rushing yardage in their final season prior to entering the NFL.
Of course, you don’t accomplish what Gordon did in college and not deliver a fun set of player comparisons. Initially, people seemed disappointed in Gordon’s combine testing, especially his 40-yard dash time, but adjusted for a back of his weight, he meets the thresholds you’re looking for. From an athletic and production measures, he has a rather impressive comparison list littered with backs who had similar draft investment used on them as is expected to be used on Gordon this spring.
|Ryan Williams||Virginia Tech||38||69||212||4.59||40||123||4.18||6.96||22.5||127.3||1.6||1.2|
|Kevin Smith||Central Florida||64||73||217||4.53||32||120||4.49||6.74||32.1||184.4||2.1||1.7|
|LaDainian Tomlinson||Texas Christian||5||70||221||4.46||40.5||124||4.21||6.84||33.5||196.2||2.0||0.9|
Not only do you get one high-end comparison in Tomlinson and another strong one in DeAngelo Williams, but you’re also reminded of the fragility of the running back position no matter what type of resume you’re bringing with you into the league. Foster, Smith and Ryan Williams were all backs that had early career injuries affect their remaining careers.
Gordon has a slightly leaner frame than the two high end performers, and those are just generated comps with no bias to playing style. Stylistically, Gordon is a slashing back that uses his strong speed and lean frame to create and exploit angles. His initial burst and long speed is what many covet in is game and he loses none of his initial quickness while moving laterally. He turns well blocked runs that would be 4-5 yard gains for an average runner into 10 plus yard ones and long touchdowns.
Hitting home runs was something Gordon did frequently as 42 percent of his career rushing touchdowns were on runs 20 yards or longer, and per Football Study Hall, no back produced close to the amount of Highlight Yards- explosive yards credited to the running back on his own- as Gordon did in 2014.
|Player||Team||Rushes||Yards||Hlt Yds||Hlt %|
|Ezekiel Elliott||Ohio State||273||1878||842.9||44.9%|
|Matt Breida||Georgia Southern||171||1485||829||55.8%|
|Donnel Pumphrey||San Diego State||277||1873||826.2||44.1%|
|Duke Johnson||Miami (Fla.)||242||1652||764.3||46.3%|
I’ll try and refrain from showing many of those highlights because there’s no lack of those runs from Gordon when you pull up any of his cutups or games that you can explore yourself. But those types of runs also played a part in him developing some poor habits as a runner. Because he frequently beats the defense with athleticism, he tends to overly rely on it sometimes. He often loses discipline when the play doesn’t succeed initially, forgoing general purpose yardage resulting in negative runs. 19.2 percent of his carries last season resulted in no gain or negative yardage.
An example here is when the defense takes away the initial point of attack, creating a massive area for Gordon to cut back to. He appears to see and head towards that void right away in what could lead to another long gain of his that we’re accustomed to, but then completely abandons his movement to the backside, but by then it’s far too late and the end result is negative play.
There are a lot of runs similar to these that make it frustrating because of what you see from him when he remains in check. In what is probably my favorite run from him that I’ve seen, you can see him stay with a play that is muddy in the beginning, then find a small crevice to slide into and by pressing that opening forces the free defensive back to miss out on an angle that is evaporated by his explosiveness. He eventually gets run down, but these are the types of runs that showcase his ceiling and why he’s being talked about as a potential top 40 selection.
That type of volatility in his running style could mean that his ceiling is tied into scheme. Many love him paired with a zone blocking scheme that runs a lot of off tackle and stretch runs that allow him to choose his own point of attack, but I believe his decision making behind the line of scrimmage is one of his major shortcomings and would prefer him used in the majority capacity on gap, power runs that gives him clear points of attack so he can use his high end acceleration and burst as the foundation of his game. That type of boom or bust production could also eventually take away from him being a three down player eventually in unison with his lack of pass game involvement.
The table of comparisons to Gordon in the beginning portion highlights an important part of not overreacting to a lack of receiving involvement from college backs. LaDainian Tomlinson was an elite receiving back that had minimal pass game involvement at TCU because of the offense, but that’s not exactly what was preventing Gordon from carving out huge profits for his offense at Wisconsin. While Gordon’s hands are fine, he appears very uncomfortable in the passing game in routes and in pass protection. The latter can be fixed as he has the requisite size and willingness, but the former has potential to be a problem. If he’s in an offense that doesn’t lean on the lead back in the pass game, he’s fine. His hands are plenty good enough on routes facing the quarterback and the majority of basic running back usage in the pass game. If not, then he may not find himself used in those situations. He improved a lot this past season so it’s not really a major concern, but it’s one that needs to be in the far corner of your mind going into selecting him.
With Todd Gurley potentially being limited year one, I believe there’s potential for Gordon to be the best back of this class short term if his destination is a matching scheme to his immediate strengths and the depth chart he’s part of is lacking a good receiving option. All in all, Gordon has a special kind of ceiling, but there are concerns of him having a fragile floor that is just enough to have him as my number three back in this class behind Jay Ajayi. There are also several other boom or bust type runners in this draft class, so there are other opportunities to possibly arbitrage his production.
With Melvin Gordon going at pick 15 to San Diego in a trade up with San Francisco, it was the first time we had two running backs selected in the top 15 since 2010. It’s also an immediate plus to Gordon’s overall stock since he won’t have much in his way to an immediate lion’s share of carries, and I believe the Charger’s scheme is a fit in limiting him from playing into his shortcomings behind the line of scrimmage. San Diego desperately needed to regain a stable running presence as they ranked 29th in yards per carry (3.77) and 31st in rushing touchdowns (15) over the first two years under Mike McCoy. That said, we’ve already seen that McCoy is willing to lean on a feature back and what that does for his offense as evidence in the final seven games of the 2013 season when Ryan Mathews led the NFL in rushing attempts (22 per game) and was second in rushing yardage (102 yards per game).
My only semi-concern with Gordon’s destination is that San Diego has a glutton of third down backs that are good in that role. That, in conjunction with Gordon’s passing game limitations, means there’s a chance that he could be a volatile option not only because of his running style, but also game flow if the Chargers don’t rebound to that late 2013 form. That’s just a small area of concern and not enough of one to fade him by any means, however. In terms of his landing spots versus Todd Gurley, Gordon got the better end of the deal, even if Gurley is a transcendent talent. Opportunity is the name of the game in the end at the position, and if you’re looking for immediate one to three year returns, I believe Gordon will outscore Gurley early in their careers based on having the better quarterback and offense overall generating fantasy opportunity.