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Chargers’ Gordon, Inman among PFF’s most improved offensive players

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
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Jan 26, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (28) signs autographs after practice at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pro Football Focus listed their most improved offensive skill players last season, and two Chargers made the list.

According to Pro Football Focus, they based their list off players who had the largest increase in overall grade from 2015 to 2016. In order to qualify, these players had to play a certain amount of snaps in both seasons. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and wide receiver Dontrelle Inman both made the list.

Gordon ranked No. 3 among running backs selected, finishing with an 82.5 overall grade after receiving a 59.4 grade last season. Here’s what PFF had to say:

“What a difference from his rookie season, in which he failed to find the end zone and fumbled a position-high six times. After undergoing knee surgery this offseason, Gordon’s believers were few and far between. Teammate Danny Woodhead tore his ACL in Week 2, yielding nearly all responsibilities to Gordon—and boy, did he shine. Showing explosiveness, Gordon recorded 16 runs of 15-plus yards (tied for fourth among 53 RBs).”

What a turnaround it was indeed. Gordon carried the ball 254 times for 997 yards and finished with 12 total touchdowns (10 rushing and two receiving), tied for seventh-most among all running backs, receivers and tight ends. Also, he stepped it up in the passing game, as he finished with 41 receptions for 419 yards and a 71.9 catch percentage, which included 10.2 yards per reception (finished with a 5.8 yards per catch with 20 fewer targets in 2015).

He became a reliable workhorse for the Chargers. He had 61 first downs in 13 games last season compared to the 33 he had in 14 games in 2015). More importantly, he fumbled the ball just twice after coughing it up six times in 2015.

I wrote that when Danny Woodhead went down, Gordon would break out–and he did just that, making the Pro Bowl in his second season.

What’s more impressive? Gordon did his damage behind the 31st-worst offensive line in the league, a line that generated an average of 1.5 yards before contact per carry (906 of the 1,510 rushing yards came after contact), per PFF. Obviously, the porous play from the offensive line played a huge role in Gordon’s mediocre 3.9 yards per carry. Despite that, he still had seven runs of 20-plus yards, tied for sixth-most, including a long of 48. He did have six runs of 20-plus yards in 2015, but his longest carry only went for 27 yards. If the line can create any sort of room for him to run in 2017, Gordon won’t be gassed early for doing so much work just trying avoid tackles in the backfield.

As for Inman, he ranked No. 3 among receivers, going from a 49.4 overall grade in 2015 to a 77.6 overall grade in 2016. PFF noted Inman’s value as a deep threat:

“This past season, Inman spent 71 percent of his snaps as the outside WR. He seemed to prefer this, as his production on deep passes exploded. He was targeted seven times on deep passes without a single catch in 2015. A season later, he was targeted 13 such times, and he notched six receptions for 215 yards and a TD. The Chargers would be wise to utilize Inman more as a deep threat going forward to see continued improvement on his end.

It’s good to see Inman gradually getting better each year. The former CFL standout went from playing in seven games (zero starts) and finishing with 12 receptions (17 targets) for 158 yards in 2014 to playing in 14 games (seven starts) and finishing with 35 receptions (63 targets) for 486 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. According to the team’s official website, Inman’s 13.9 yards-per-catch average in ’15 was the highest on the team and 29th-highest in the NFL among players with at least 35 catches.

Nov 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (15) makes a reception and scores a touchdown during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

And he was really needed in 2016. With early injuries to Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson (along with the ineffectiveness of Travis Benjamin), Inman played and started all 16 games, finishing the year with 58 receptions for 810 yards and four touchdowns, all of which were career highs. Inman wasn’t a dominant receiver, but he was a reliable player for quarterback Philip Rivers (his 97 targets were second-most on the team behind only Tyrell Williams).

Inman may never be a No. 1 receiver, but the 28-year-old has proven to be quality depth. His experience and knowledge of the offense is very valuable. He was given a second-round tender in free agency, so Inman, who adds to a very strong but injury-riddled wide receiver corps, should be back with the Bolts for at least one more year.

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