The Los Angeles Chargers need to add depth to the RB position after losing unrestricted free agent Danny Woodhead, who’s now a Baltimore Raven, and not tendering restricted free agent Branden Oliver. With new head coach Anthony Lynn’s connection to Buffalo, could the Chargers target a Bills’ running back?
Anthony Lynn’s hire likely meant one thing: The Los Angeles Chargers will become a run-dominant team in 2017. The Bolts still have a great quarterback in Philip Rivers, but it’s time to take the pressure off the 35-year-old–and that starts by handing over the torch to Melvin Gordon.
Gordon proved to be a workhorse after a bounce-back sophomore season. He rushed for 997 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns in 2016. Not only that, but he did his damage behind the second-worst offensive line in the league, per Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately for Gordon and the team, the former finished the year on injured reserve for the second season in a row.
Lynn believes he can take Gordon’s game to another level, and the former running backs coach and offensive coordinator’s success with Bills’ running backs definitely brings hope. In 2016, Lynn, who was promoted to OC early on in the season, had LeSean McCoy as his lead back. McCoy ranked sixth in rushing with 1,276 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and also scored 13 rushing touchdowns, fourth-most in the league. Prior to 2015-16, Lynn guided a Jets’ running back to an 1,000-yard season in three of his six years as the team’s running backs coach.
The Chargers have their leading actor in Gordon, but what about the supporting cast? It’s important to have extra backs in what should be a run-heavy offense, including a solid backup should Gordon miss time. As of now, Gordon, 2016 undrafted free agent Kenneth Farrow and Andre Williams, who was given a tender as an exclusive rights free agent, are the only backs on the roster.
During Lynn’s time in Buffalo, McCoy was the leading rusher, but two other backs were also utilized. In 2015, Karlos Williams carried the ball 93 times for 517 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He also had two receiving touchdowns and finished with a 5.6 yards per carry, which would have tied Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls for the highest yards-per-carry average had he qualified.
In 2016, Mike Gillislee took over as McCoy’s backup and did an exceptional job, too. He finished with 577 rushing yards, scored nine total touchdowns and led qualifying running backs in yards per carry (5.7). ESPN’s Mike Rodak added to Gillislee’s 2016 performance:
“According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gillislee topped the league with a 12.6 rush-to-touchdown ratio and posted NFL-best marks in first-down percentage per rush (38.6) and third-down conversion percentage on rushes (75 percent).”
Gillislee happens to be a restricted free agent, and while Rodak’s article was meant for the Bills to avoid losing Gillislee, my article is for Lynn and the Chargers to steal him away.
The Bills (surprisingly) only gave Gillislee, who was a 2013 fifth-round pick, an original-round tender. If another team makes an offer and the Bills decline to match, Buffalo would receive a 2017 fifth-rounder from the team that signs him.
At 5-foot-11 and 219 pounds, he has the power to hit the hole hard and the speed to break loose. Last season, he tied with eight other players (including Gordon) for the sixth-most runs of 20-plus yards (seven). More importantly, he only fumbled once in 15 games played.
Gillislee was rarely used as a receiving back, though. He only finished with nine receptions (11 targets) for 50 yards and a TD. And don’t put him back there to return kicks, because he could do this.
As for running backs, there’s more options than just Gillislee. The Chargers could add a more versatile weapon like Rex Burkhead, who’s still on the market, as well as find a more powerful, change-of-pace back late in the draft to back up Gordon. If the team goes after a receiving threat early in the draft, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara could be targets. Also, if the Bolts are comfortable with Williams as Gordon’s backup, then they could take a look at San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey later in the draft. The 5-foot-8, 176-pounder would likely be a fifth or sixth-round pick in this deep draft class.
Overall, running back has become an underrated need for the Chargers. For those who say the team is fine with just Gordon, you’re wrong. Even the great LaDainian Tomlinson needed some time to catch his breath, and Michael Turner and Darren Sproles were both quality players who stepped up and kept Tomlinson’s legs fresh.
Gillislee is only 26 years old and has valuable experience. Not only that, but Lynn is familiar with his skill set and will know how to utilize him, which is why I’d be comfortable in giving up a 2017 fifth-rounder. Gordon and Gillislee would provide a one-two punch for the Chargers, and the latter could also be trusted as a starter if the former goes down with injury.
Just think about the name: MG squared. The nickname itself should be enough to sell you.