Chargers Draft Analysis: Melvin Gordon


Since Thursday night, a lot has been said about the Chargers selecting Melvin Gordon with the number 15 overall pick… many of them criticisms: We shouldn’t have picked a running back in the first round with such depth at the position; We shouldn’t have traded up to get him; We shouldn’t have picked a back with only two-down capabilities…

Personally, I agree with two of those (specifically, giving up a fourth round pick that could have been used on a right guard to replace Troutman). I’m less worried about the third criticism with Woodhead coming back. Regardless, the fact is Melvin Gordon is going to be wearing the bolt on his helmet, so let’s take a look at the kind of back he really is.

We all know by now the video game-type numbers he put up at Wisconsin (and if you don’t, he rushed for 2,587 yards last year… 2nd all-time behind Barry Sanders). But make no mistake: Gordon and Mr. Sanders are very different types of backs.

Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) poses for a photo after being selected as the number 15th overall pick to the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Running backs in the NFL are usually successful by doing one of two things: breaking tackles, or creating space for themselves where none exists. Most college backs with even a modicum of good vision can hit the open hole when his O-line is mashing people. It’s the backs that can create for themselves who evolve into the great ones. Barry Sanders was one of those. Who was another?

The mighty LaDainian Tomlinson.

L.T. was one of the best in NFL history creating space in a phone booth – finding tiny seams between the tackles where little space exists. And when L.T. got loose, he had an uncanny ability to break tackles. If you need a refresher, just youtube the Rams game from 2006 when he Tyson-punched Atogwe’s helmet right off his head.

While I’m not trying to compare L.T. to a back who has played zero downs in the NFL, I am trying to point out that Gordon is a different type of back.

At Wisconsin, Gordon had one the NCAA’s best offensive lines clearing space for him. And Gordon made the most of that wide-open space. With a ridiculous burst, Gordon took it to the house often. But those big plays were very often runs to the outside – either designed stretch plays, or Gordon bouncing the ball outside after crossing the line of scrimmage.

In college, Gordon had the speed to beat defenders to the edge. However, running the ball outside is a lot more difficult in the NFL with ‘backers who can fly… some even posting combine numbers better than some running backs.

The other concern is, running the pill outside doesn’t really fit our current scheme. As we’ve seen in the McCoy era, most of the designed runs in our offense go between the tackles. Dives and draws off pass-action is our rushing meat and potatoes (and not terribly creative, if you ask me).

Now, I’m not saying that Gordon can’t run up the gut. I’m just saying we haven’t seen that often from him… yet.

It would seem that the Chargers were looking for a bell cow back in this draft, considering we already have two very good third-down change-up backs with hands. We needed a grinder to pick up the tough yards to close games out… the third-and-short power back to keep the chains moving. However, a troubling stat is that for all the monster runs he had, Gordon was held to “stuffs” (runs of zero or negative yards) on 19.2% of his carries… nearly 1/5 of the times he carried the rock.

I like Gordon. I really do. But can he adjust his running style from college to be a between-the-tackles type runner? Or will McCoy and Reich adjust their rushing scheme to fit what Gordon does best?

Just remember, as a coordinator with Denver, McCoy installed two completely different offenses with Tim Tebow one year, and Peyton Manning the next (both successfully). So for now, I’m feeling relatively positive about the pick.



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