Melvin Gordon will be X-Factor for 2016 season


2015 first-round draft pick Melvin Gordon had his struggles as a rookie. While running for just 641 yards on the season, Gordon averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and didn’t score a single rushing touchdown. Most alarming may have been the fact that he lost four fumbles on the year.

Gordon was forced to watch other rookie running backs like Todd Gurley and David Johnson had big seasons while others such as Karlos Williams, T.J. Yeldon, Thomas Rawls, Jeremy Langford and Matt Jones made an impression. Gordon was all but forgotten in San Diego.

That all must change completely in 2016.

In order for the Chargers to be able to win more than four games, they are going to have to run the football. Improving the offensive line will go a long way in achieving that, but the presence of new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt should help too. When Whisenhunt was last with the team in 2013, Ryan Mathews ran for 1,255 yards, nearly twice what Gordon posted last season.

It’s not that Gordon doesn’t have the talent. This is the same player who ran roughshod in college whole at the University of Wisconsin. This is the same player who once broke the single-game NCAA rushing record with 408 yards in a game in 2014. He’s the same player the Chargers traded up in the first round in order to select last year.

Perhaps no rookie is due for a bigger bounce-back year than Gordon. After rushing for 4,296 yards in his last two seasons at Wisconsin, he had to be expecting a better output in San Diego. Yes, defenses are tougher and defenders are faster and stronger at the pro level, but Gordon has the physical tools.

Coming out of college, Gordon was an explosive player with terrific vision and balance. He was a big play waiting to happen. He didn’t lose these things, he just wasn’t afforded the best opportunity to display them.

Head coach Mike McCoy and quarterback Philip Rivers believe the team can go from worst to first in the AFC West. That won’t happen with Gordon running for just over 600 yards. Whisenhunt will be focused on developing a much stronger running game, and he’ll look to refine Gordon’s skills as a receiver as well. To be successful, Gordon must also eliminate the fumbling problem and improve as a blocker.

That’s not impossible, but it will take some work. Gordon can be every bit as good as Mathews was in San Diego, if not much better. It’s way too soon to worry about Gordon or saddle him with the “bust” tag. But if he has another season like he did last year, that will be warranted. It would also likely lead to another dismal season in the win column.