Is Melvin Gordon a top 5 running back?

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27: Melvin Gordon
HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27: Melvin Gordon /

Melvin Gordon’s overall production has been trending upwards since he debuted in 2015. Given that he continues to get better on an annual basis, will he be considered a true top-5 NFL running back in 2018?

To say Gordon’s rookie season was ugly is an understatement; it was downright dreadful. The 2015 campaign saw Gordon rush for 641 yards on 184 carries in 14 games played. Furthermore, he recorded zeros in touchdowns and 100-yard rushing games, with his season-high of 88 yards coming in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

For a running back that rushed for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns at the University of Wisconsin in 2014, this was unexpected, especially given that the Chargers invested their first-round pick in 2015 on the former Badger.

Sean Tomlinson may have articulated Gordon’s rookie season best in his July 2016 article that analyzed if he can avoid the dreaded ‘ draft bust’ label in his second season:

Gordon’s rookie year looked like what would happen if a truck carrying only large containers of salad dressing rolled over on the highway. Still, there’s reason for hope.- Sean Tomlinson, Bleacher Report

Reason for hope there was, because when Gordon’s sophomore season rolled around, his overall game saw immense improvements.

And since then, Gordon has not only justified the Chargers reasoning for making him a first-round pick, but he has also entered the discussion as one of the top-10 backs in the league. Even fantasy football experts have taken a liking to Gordon.

But in 2018, he might just assert himself as one of the elite rushers in the game, and prior evidence tends to back it up.

Last season, Gordon recorded 1,105 rushing yards off 284 carries, as his yardage total was seventh in the NFL. His number of carries was third-highest in the league. The 6-foot-1 rusher amassed 997 rushing yards in 2016, but an injury prevented him from playing the final three games of the year and held him back from a 1,000-yard season.

Gordon’s rushing production has been trending upwards since his debut season, but his impact in the passing game might be a bigger surprise.

A major reason why his receiving production is quite stunning derives from it being a weakness of his at Wisconsin, as noted by’s Lance Zierlein in his 2015 scouting report of Gordon.

“Uncomfortable pass-catcher with marginal hands. Either dropped, double caught or smothered many throws away. Pass protection needs work. Might have to come off field on third downs.” -Lance Zierlein,

Needless to say, he has silenced some critics in that department. The Chargers’ starting running back has racked up back-to-back 400-yard receiving seasons, which includes 476 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. Gordon was also second on the Chargers in receptions with 58. 

The only other running backs to have at least 50 receptions and over 1,100 rush yards were Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, LeSean McCoy, Mark Ingram and Kareem Hunt. Moreover, his 1,281 yards from scrimmage last year was fifth in the NFL.

Furthermore, his ability to find the end zone has not been an issue over the last two years, as he has recorded 12 total touchdowns in back-to-back seasons

In 2016, Gordon amassed 10 rushing touchdowns and a pair of receiving scores. His touchdown total was seventh in the league. Gordon’s second-straight 12-touchdown season in 2017 included eight rushing scores and four touchdown receptions, as he finished fourth the league in total TD’s.

Although the Chargers passing attack is above-average, their offense becomes nearly unstoppable when Gordon is churning out solid rushing numbers. When the fourth-year back collected at least 75 rushing yards in a game last season, the Chargers were 7-3. Moreover, Gordon amassed at least 80 total yards every game from Weeks 10-16, and the Bolts went 6-1 in those matchups.

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Unpacking Gordon’s production from the last two years does show one glaring hole, which is his inability to consistently record 100-yard rushing games.

Over the last two seasons, the former 15th overall draft pick has just five 100-yard rushing games, with only two of them coming last season. To put that into perspective, tailbacks such as Marshawn Lynch, Orleans Darkwa, Bilal Powell and Samaje Perine also recorded two 100-yard rushing games last season.

Hunt and Gurley led the league with six each, while Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette and Jordan Howard broke triple-digits in five games each. Bell and McCoy had four each.

Entering the 2018 season, it’s clear that Gurley, Bell and Elliot are arguably the top-flight tailbacks of the NFL, and a healthy David Johnson would assert himself into that conversation.

So who rounds out the top five then?

Given that Gordon has enhanced his overall game on an annual basis, it is easy to believe that he will assert himself in 2018 as the NFL’s next upper echelon running back.