No one will debate the fact that Melvin Gordon had a disappointing rookie season.
It’s not like he wasn’t given opportunities. Gordon played in 14 games and had 184 carries. Yet, he averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt and gained just 641 yards for the season. In addition, he didn’t score a single touchdown.
The team will be hoping he bounces back in a big way in 2016 and justifies trading up to get him in the first round of last year’s NFL draft.
The pieces will be in place for him to do that.
Ken Whisenhunt is back as the team’s offensive coordinator and if you forgot how valuable he is to the running game, just take a look at Ryan Mathews’ 2013 statistics.
That season, Mathews churned out 1,255 yards on the ground and was fed 285 carries. Both numbers were the best single-season totals of his now six-year NFL career, by far. He added six touchdowns on the ground and one through the air that season.
By comparison, all other Chargers running backs were given a total of 162 carries that year. This shows that Whisenhunt favors a workhorse running back, one who will get the hot hand and only gets stronger as the game wears on.
Of course, it is impossible to take Danny Woodhead off the field, particularly on passing downs, but Whisenhunt will place a heavy focus on the second-year running back, Gordon.
Gordon will also be running behind the fullback he shared a backfield with at the University of Wisconsin, Derek Watt. At Wisconsin, Gordon had a solid career, but his junior campaign in 2014 was among the best college football has ever seen.
That season, Gordon ran for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also broke the NCAA single-game rushing record when he ran for 408 yards against Nebraska. The previous record of 406 yards was held by a guy quite familiar to Chargers fans, LaDainian Tomlinson.
This all helped Gordon land in second place in the Heisman Trophy voting and ultimately, a first-round draft pick.
However, it won’t just be a poor rookie season that Gordon must rebound from.
Just this past week, it was reported that the offseason knee surgery that Gordon underwent was actually microfracture surgery. The term microfracture surgery is a dreaded word in pro sports. Just ask Myles Jack, who was a top-five draft prospect who ended up falling all the way to the second round after he himself said he might need the surgery.
IMO Melvin Gordon will have bounce-back '16. #Chargers OL horrid in '15. He made DEFs miss @ good rate & was effective after contact as rook
— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) May 11, 2016
So, for argument sake, let’s say that behind the direction of Whisenhunt and the blocking a familiar teammate, Gordon has a season similar to what Mathews accomplished in 2013. Let’s say that Gordon cracks the 1,000-yard rushing barrier and runs in 10 touchdowns.
He is a player that is capable of doing that, so long as his knee responds well to the recent surgery. If it does, he will be a player the Chargers should rely heavily on in his second year.
Last season, the offensive line was a mess. General manager Tom Telesco has made moves to address that problem, and the team should be able to get more of a push in the running game as well as take some of the pressure off quarterback Philip Rivers.
Gordon will be a big part of the offense and if he can have a season like the one suggested above, it would be hard to imagine any player beating him out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Eric Berry, Rob Gronkowski, Rivers and Peyton Manning are the players who have won the award the past four seasons. Gordon would be joining elite company.