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Player Spotlight: Melvin Gordon

A detailed look at Melvin Gordon's fantasy prospects for 2016

Following a spectacular senior season at Wisconsin and a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, Gordon was viewed as a future star running back in the NFL. He led the nation in both rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns, and fell just 41 yards shy of breaking Barry Sanders' FBS record for single-season rushing yards. For his collegiate career, Gordon averaged 7.8 yards per carry and some observers even likened his game to that of Jamaal Charles. Gordon seemed well on his way towards NFL stardom.

The San Diego Chargers, having tried and failed to find a replacement for All-Pro rusher LaDainian Tomlinson, decided to trade up two spots to select the speedy Gordon in the first round of the 2015 draft. The marriage was seen as a positive for both sides; the Chargers finally had a stud rusher to help alleviate some of the pressure in the passing game, and Gordon would be going to a team without a proven superstar skill position player - in other words, the team would focus the offense around his talents. What was supposed to be a beautiful marriage, in reality turned out to be a very rocky first year, and the honeymoon was over before it really even started.

Gordon's first few games in the NFL showed that the Chargers were going to give him every chance to succeed each game, but he consistently did less with his touches than backup Danny Woodhead did with his. Gordon's lack of success can be partly attributed to the poor offensive line, but Woodhead did far better running behind the exact same line. Each game, it would seem as if Gordon had one good run surrounded by a dozen or so negative-gain carries. There was just no consistency whatsoever to his game. The Chargers continued to feed him the ball, almost to the detriment of the team's success, because they were committed to see what they had in their first round pick. The results obviously weren't pretty. For the season, he averaged just 3.48 yards per carry. And in what seems almost impossible to believe for a guy who scored a touchdown every 11.3 touches his senior year in college, he somehow failed to find the end zone on ANY of his 217 pro touches from scrimmage.

To make matters worse, Gordon also developed major fumbling problems, which caused him to be benched at critical moments in several games. And if that wasn't enough, he proved to be less than durable in suffering an ankle injury Week 7 and a knee injury in Week 15. That knee injury proved serious enough that it knocked him out of the final two games of the season, and eventually required very serious microfracture surgery in January. It's safe to say that Gordon's rookie year was a spectacular failure in every sense of the word. Those looking for a silver lining would point to his 33 receptions in part-time duty as a sign of his ability, but even then his yards per reception was a paltry 5.8 so it's tough to get too excited by that.

Expectations for Gordon are clearly tempered coming into the 2016 season. His price tag is being discounted due to the memory of those who were burned spending an early pick on him last year. But is this newly-discounted price tag enough of a drop to make him valuable? Or is his 2016 season going to be a continuation of 2015 and cause owners to have even more buyer's remorse?

POSITIVES

  • Gordon has a tremendous pedigree, as one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. And that's with really only two seasons as a regular contributor. In other words, he didn't have the typical wear and tear you would see out of a four-year college starter.
  • Despite all of the difficulties Gordon encountered, the Chargers never once went away from making him a part of the game plan. This front office and coaching staff wants Gordon to succeed, and has a vested interest in it. He will be given every chance to become a star running back in terms of usage.
  • The Chargers as a team upgraded their offensive line over the last few seasons, and some better luck with respect to injuries could create a more cohesive unit. At times, the fault seemed to lie more with the space around him than Gordon himself. San Diego will also utilize a fullback this season (Gordon's former college teammate in fact), so the team is making every effort to strengthen the run game.

NEGATIVES

  •  We already know that the Chargers will employ a committee approach, with the presence of both Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver being felt with regular workloads for each.
  • Gordon's knee is "on schedule" with where he's expected to be at this point, but that doesn't diminish the severity of the surgery he underwent in January. It's not as if he was tearing up the league prior to the injury.
  • No matter how his knee responds or how well the offensive line plays, no coaching staff will tolerate turnovers. Gordon had a major issue with holding onto the football last season, and his workload is dependent upon him correcting that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Gordon's negatives are obviously well-documented. Just about anyone who drafted him last year can tell you how frustrating it was watching him get 10-12 touches in the first half and do almost nothing with them, only to see him wasting away on the bench in the second half as Danny Woodhead got all the significant action. But it feels like those negatives are being built into his price. He's going off the board as the #27 running back, and the #70 player overall. There aren't many backs in the league who will be looking at 250+ touches that are getting drafted that late. In other words, he's fallen beyond the point he should have. If he makes even a decent return towards being the player many thought he was coming out of college, owners will have a steal on their hands.

We're not necessarily suggesting you reach a round or two to nab Gordon. After all, he'll still be in a time-sharing situation, won't see the majority of the passing work, and won't see the majority of the goal line action. But this is a guy who, at his best, is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. And all of the signs and stories this offseason have generated a bit of positive buzz. Not so much so that he's creeping back up draft boards, but enough that you can feel very comfortable drafting him at his current ADP and not feeling "burned" if he fails to live up to it. More than just about any player in the league, this is a guy we would strongly recommend watching or at least following in the preseason to see how he looks in practice, game action, etc. Every year, there are a handful of mid-round players who end up winning fantasy leagues for those who were bold enough to put some faith in them. Right now, we lean towards caution with respect to drafting Gordon. But if he falls to you at his current ADP, you can be confident knowing that there's not much lower floor than what he did last season, but he comes with the upside of a guy who can help win your league if things break right. There's not much more upside than that anywhere else in the draft!

PROJECTIONS

  • 225 rush attempts
  • 900 rushing yards
  • 5 rushing TD
  • 40 receptions
  • 280 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD

Other viewpoints

Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports thinks Gordon will turn a "monster profit":

"Frugal shoppers, particularly ZeroRB supporters, shouldn’t turn a blind eye. If the stars align, Gordon could easily peak at some 1,400 combined yards with 7-9 TDs"

Others, like James Koh of NFL Network, don't believe Gordon is ready for prime time just yet:

"For Gordon's long-term outlook, I'm actually hoping San Diego will work him in extremely slowly and give Danny Woodhead at least 50 percent of the backfield shares this upcoming season. Let Gordon come back at his own pace and give him a chance to be a monster in 2017 and beyond."