A realistic, yet optimistic expectation for Melvin Gordon
By Louis Gorini
Melvin Gordon. Just hearing the name enacts so many types of emotions for San Diego Charger fans. There seems to be a divide between fans and Chargers “experts.” The glass half-empty type of people are grabbing their pitchforks and quick to declare Gordon a horrible draft pick and already are labeling him the dreaded “B- word”, bust. They are quick to say he was a product of the Wisconsin system and is like every other former Badger that attempted to put their thumbprint as a running back in the NFL. I am sure you have heard the names before; Michael Bennett, Ron Dayne, Montee Ball… and now Melvin Gordon? All of the aforementioned names were exciting and productive college running backs that failed to live up to their hype in the NFL and after one year Gordon is already being associated with them by some people.
Then you have the optimistic fans and analysts saying it is too early to tell what type of player Gordon is yet and that no one could have been a productive running back behind the Chargers makeshift offensive line. So I took it upon myself to determine what San Diego Charger fans can realistically expect out of Gordon this year.
About a week ago, I called into Movin’ the Chains with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on NFL radio, Sirius XM, to get their take on the sophomore rusher. I flat out asked them, is Melvin Gordon Trent Richardson 2.0, or more like Mark Ingram, a running back that needed a couple of years to figure it out in the NFL. Pat Kirwan took the lead and said the following,
“I don’t see Gordon being like Richardson who was an out of shape running back. Gordon has a good work ethic unlike Richardson. You see last year was a tricky year for the Chargers, frankly no one played good. They were always behind and never found a rhythm in the running game. Their offensive line play was bad and Gordon didn’t look like he trusted what the play was trying to do or the offensive lines’ abilities.”
Kirwan then went on to state the obvious, a change in offensive coordinator will help Gordon because he didn’t look comfortable running draws and dive plays out of the shotgun. However, he did put some of the onus on Gordon, saying that he needs to be better at trusting the play and improve his vision and don’t think, just run.
Translation, the jury is still out on Gordon. So what can Charger fans expect from the former Wisconsin Badger in 2016? By taking a look at what Gordon did last year against teams he faced plus other factors such as off-season improvements or regressions by teams, I attempt to break down how Gordon will do in each game this year.
“I don’t see Gordon being like Richardson who was an out of shape running back. Gordon has a good work ethic unlike Richardson. You see last year was a tricky year for the Chargers, frankly no one played good. They were always behind and never found a rhythm in the running game. Their offensive line play was bad and Gordon didn’t look like he trusted what the play was trying to do or the offensive lines’ abilities.”-Pat Kirwan
WEEK 1 @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Straight out of the pan and into the fire, Gordon faces a tough Chiefs defense who he had no success against last year. Gordon averaged about 15 attempts, 36 yards and 0 TDs against the Chiefs last year. Don’t be surprised if Gordon starts off slow coming out of the gate. The bright spot is the Chargers will not have to face Justin Houston in the season opener due to a late-season injury that occurred.
PREDICTION: 15 ATTEMPTS, 57 YARDS
WEEK 2 VS JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
This is the second year in a row the Chargers play the Jaguars. Gordon had some success against Jacksonville last year. He was able to gain 60 yards on 14 carries, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. To go along with his decent yards per carry, Gordon was able to force 10 missed tackles against Jacksonville’s defense. However, the Jaguars are sporting a new look defense thanks to the off-season acquisitions of Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Jalen Ramsey, and Myles Jack. In addition, Jacksonville will have their first-round pick from last year, Dante Fowler, coming back from his yearlong injury. Once again, timing is on Gordon’s’ side, as it will most likely take the Jaguars a couple of games before their defense really starts to click.
PREDICTION: 17 ATTEMPTS, 72 YARDS
WEEK 3 @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
The Chargers usually have success running the ball against a Colts defense. In 2015, the Colts gave up 122 rushing yards per game. Indianapolis focused on improving the offensive line this year to protect the richest player in the NFL. But they did not improve their spotty defense. This will be a great opportunity for Gordon to take advantage of a weak defense. The only thing stopping Gordon from having a great game is the fact that this could become an aerial shoot out.
PREDICTION: 18 ATTEMPTS, 88 YARDS, 1 TD
WEEK 4 VS NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Charger fans’ knee jerk reaction will most likely think this is the game. A home game against a Saints team that ranked second to last in the NFL in 2015 in stopping the run. This is where Melvin Gordon runs wild! Yes, New Orleans gave up over 129 rushing yards per game last year. But they made a conscious effort and addressed their glaring weakness this offseason. They added free agents Nick Fairley and James Laurinaitis in addition to drafting Sheldon Rankins in this year’s draft. Besides beefing up the middle of that defense, the Saints got rid of Rob Ryan and his complicated defensive schemes and replaced him with Dennis Allen as defensive coordinator. Lastly, this is another game in which could turn out to be an aerial shoot out. So Charger fans need to temper their expectations for this game, but should be happy that Gordon will most likely find the end zone in back-to-back weeks.
PREDICTION: 14 ATTEMPTS, 65 YARDS, 1 TD
WEEK 5 @ OAKLAND RAIDERS
These aren’t the Raiders of old. This is a new team that has a revamped, tough defense. They have a formidable front seven led by Khalil Mack and only improved this year thanks to the addition of Bruce Irvin. Oakland also decided to focus heavily on the defensive side of the ball in this year’s draft and selected sound rookies like Shilique Calhoun and Jihad Ward that will add some nice depth to their defensive line. Gordon only had a small sample size last year against the silver and black, where he rushed seven times for 29 yards. This will be a competitive and physical game and I foresee the Chargers wanting to try and set a tone.
PREDICTION: 17 ATTEMPTS, 68 YARDS, 1 TD
WEEK 6 VS DENVER BRONCOS
This is the first time Gordon will face the defending Super Bowl Champions and their shut-down defense. Yes, the Broncos lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan; but even without those two,
Dec 6, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) runs the ball ahead of Denver Broncos outside linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) during the second half of the game at Qualcomm Stadium. Denver won 17-3. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Denver still sports a dominant defense. Gordon will not be heavily involved in this game because the Chargers will be utilizing Danny Woodhead more to create mismatches against the Broncos’ linebacking core. Last year Gordon gained 55 yards on 12 carries and I feel like that is right in line on where he will be again.
PREDICTION: 14 ATTEMPTS, 55 YARDS
WEEK 7 @ ATLANTA FALCONS
I have a feeling this is going to be one of the games that San Diego comes out and plays flat and are forced to play catch-up all game. They will just be coming off a tough divisional game and now have to travel to the east coast to take on a team they have very little history with. And believe it or not, the Falcons were a top-15 rushing defense in 2015, allowing only 105 yards per game on the ground. For the fourth week in a row Gordon fails to get above 70 rushing yards.
PREDICTION: 14 ATTEMPTS, 62 YARDS
WEEK 8 @ DENVER BRONCOS
Things do not get easier for Melvin Gordon as he and the Chargers play a second game on the road and visit the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. Gordon will not fare as well as he did last time.
PREDICTION: 17 ATTEMPTS, 42 YARDS
WEEK 9 VS. TENNESSEE TITANS
Here it is, the game GM Tom Telesco, and Charger fans have been waiting for from Melvin Gordon. Gordon has his first 100-yard game of the season and finds paydirt two times in former Titans’ coach Ken Whisenhunts’ homecoming game. Call this game, the Revenge of Whisenhunt.
PREDICTION: 21 ATTEMPTS, 117 YARDS, 2 TDS
WEEK 10 VS MIAMI DOLPHINS
The Miami Dolphins were ranked 28th last year against the run. They allowed more than 126
Jun 14, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) participates in a drill during minicamp at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
yards per game in 2015 and Melvin Gordon only found himself totaling 41 yards on 15 rushes. The Chargers usually have trouble running on the Dolphins and with Miami adding veterans Mario Williams and Kiko Alonso, I see more of the same struggles for Gordon.
PREDICTION: 15 ATTEMPTS, 52 YARDS
WEEK 11 @ HOUSTON TEXANS
One name, JJ Watt. Last year the Texans were extremely stingy giving up rushing yards. In fact they were ranked in the top 10 by only allowing opponents 99 yards per game. It is not like Whisenhunt has had any success running the ball against Houston either. Last time the Chargers played JJ Watt and company, Ryan Mathews had 13 carries for 33 yards. So in the battle of the Watt brothers, put one up in the win column for JJ.
PREDICTION: 16 ATTEMPTS, 38 YARDS
WEEK 12 VS TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay has an athletic but undersized defense. They do not match up well with the physical play of San Diego’s offensive lineman. Look for both teams to run the ball a lot in this game and for Melvin Gordon to have a bounce-back week.
PREDICTION: 19 ATTEMPTS, 93 YARDS, 1 TD
WEEK 13 @ CAROLINA PANTHERS
The Carolina Panthers have one of the best front seven’s in the NFL. They only gave up 88 rushing yards per game, which ranked them 4th in the NFL in 2015. Look for their talented interior lineman to overwhelm the guards of the Chargers. And when San Diego attempts outside runs, linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly will be there waiting for Gordon. This will be a tough game for the Chargers ground attack.
PREDICTION: 13 ATTEMPTS, 42 YARDS
WEEK 14 VS OAKLAND RAIDERS
Chargers face their rivals again and this time the Raiders do a better job containing Melvin Gordon. Oakland’s defense has had time to gel and work out the kinks which leads to Gordon having a sub-par game.
PREDICTION: 15 ATTEMPTS, 56 YARDS
WEEK 15 @ CLEVELAND BROWNS
Playing a Cleveland team late in the year is just what Melvin Gordon needs. The possibility of bad weather and facing a team that has nothing to play for will be a big confidence booster for the second year running back. Cleveland was notoriously horrid against the run in 2015. They were ranked 30th in the NFL and gave up more than 128 yards per game. Gordon only averaged 3.2 yards on 12 carries last year against Cleveland, but that will almost certainly change.
PREDICTION: 18 ATTEMPTS, 89 YARDS, 1 TD
Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali (91) in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
WEEK 16 VS KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chargers end the season against the same team they started against, the Kansas City Chiefs. This might be the last time Charger fans see their team playing in San Diego. Emotions will be high for this game. However, Houston will have returned by now and be fully healthy to make sure the Chiefs defense keep Gordon in check.
PREDICTION: 14 ATTEMPTS, 61 YARDS
It is no secret, Melvin Gordon had a less than ideal rookie season. He showed poor vision, hesitation, and finished it off with an injury. However, there were glimpses of promise. Per PFF’s elusive rating, Gordon had the 9th highest rating in the league of any running back in 2015. So where does that leave Gordon for 2016? Will Mike McCoy and company be content with the second-year running back if he was to average 4.11 yards per carry? How about Charger fans? If Gordon puts up a stat line of 257 carries, 1,057 yards, and 7 TDs would Chargers fans be happy? Or will they have resentment that Gordon is no Todd Gurley? Let’s hear it from some San Diego fans below. Would a season like this be considered a successful season for Gordon?