The Chargers could move on from Melvin Gordon, but his role as a receiver and decoy for play-action passes within the offense may be irreplaceable.
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is certainly a dynamic player, but is he one the Chargers can replace? While his role as a runner is often discussed, many have forgotten about his impact in the passing game.
The best backs are more versatile and impact the game in more ways than one. LaDainian Tomlinson, the undisputed best back in team history, demonstrated this value by averaging over 400 receiving yards per season in San Diego.
So what added value does Gordon bring to the Chargers’ passing game?
Gordon as a receiver
As a receiver, Gordon compares quite well to Tomlinson. Over the past three years, Gordon has hit the 400-yard receiving threshold each season, while posting a total of 10 receiving touchdowns. Not known as a running back who could catch coming out of Wisconsin, Gordon is now one of the more dynamic open-field players after a reception.
Melvin Gordon touchdown from Riverspic.twitter.com/1Abso4VkDA
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 16, 2018
Can the other backs on the roster replace this receiving production?
Austin Ekeler certainly appears to be quite the receiving back, going for over 400 yards on nearly 40 receptions in 2018. Additionally, Justin Jackson was a fairly effective receiver in college, so there is not much reason to doubt he couldn’t translate that skill to the NFL level. In the regular season clash with the Baltimore Ravens, Jackson notched a career-best seven receptions for 47 yards, though most came as a result of screens on third-and-long plays.
It appears that Gordon’s receiving production can be replaced. So why is Gordon so valuable to the Chargers in the passing game?
Gordon as a decoy
Last year, Philip Rivers was an animal on the play-action pass, posting a perfect passer rating on such plays into November last year, and ending up with a 128.4 rating on play-action over the course of the whole year.
The value of an excellent runner extends beyond the run game. When a defense is forced to fear the run, the play-action passing game becomes more effective as more defenders tend to linger closer to the line of scrimmage. Thus, when considering the value of Gordon to the Chargers, it is important to look at his value on offense as a whole rather than just as a runner. Though Ekeler is statistically an efficient running back rushing the ball, he has not been given enough legitimate opportunities to demonstrate he can touch the ball 20 or more times per game.
How much is Gordon as a runner, receiver, and decoy in the play-action passing game worth? The combined value is substantial, and it is up to the Chargers and Gordon’s agent to attempt to agree upon contract terms that represent it.