LA Chargers: The Bolts’ running backs are better without Melvin Gordon
By Jason Reed
Melvin Gordon signed with the Denver Broncos and the LA Chargers got better at running back.
At this time last year, the biggest story for the LA Chargers was the contract holdout for Melvin Gordon. What wound up happening is that Gordon sat out training camp and the first four regular-season games before returning to action.
Gordon did not get a contract from the Chargers and did not play all that well last season. He was not bad by any stretch of the imagination but he had the worst numbers of his career since his rookie season, and it was not even close.
Gordon ended up not getting the contract he desired. The Denver Broncos signed him to a two-year, $16 million contract. While his average salary is higher, Austin Ekeler ironically got more than Gordon did ($24.5 million) after a standout year with Gordon’s reduced presence.
Ekeler not only got better with the reduced presence of Gordon last season and became a legit RB1 but the LA Chargers actually got better at the running back position without Melvin Gordon.
Why the LA Chargers’ backup running backs are better than Melvin Gordon
The LA Chargers’ running game was pretty much just Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler last season. Gordon carried the ball 162 times, Ekeler 132 times and the next-highest running back was Justin Jackson, with 29 carries.
Jackson is healthy this year and is one of the most exciting members of the LA Chargers’ roster. He has been really good whenever he is on the field, he just has struggled in staying on the field. As long as he stays healthy, then it is really easy to make the case that the Bolts are better without Gordon.
Let’s break it down. The Chargers have the tandem of Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley splitting time at RB2. Kelley was a workhorse back for the UCLA Bruins in his collegiate career and is really impressing in training camp thus far. At the very least, he is going to be a great short-yardage back.
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Ekeler is naturally going to get more carries and the team is naturally going to run the ball more. The Chargers had a total of 340 running back carries last season. The Bolts are probably going to be somewhere close to 400 running back carries in 2020.
Ekeler’s workload will go from 132 carries to about, I would guess 200. That gives Ekeler 12.5 carries per game, which is a fair number for someone who will be in the passing game as well.
That leaves 200 carries for Jackson and Kelley and just for simplicities’ sake we will split it down the middle at 100 carries per player. We can utilize some basic math to project how these guys will perform, using Jackson’s career averages and 85 percent of Kelley’s college numbers (just to project the natural NFL learning curve), these are the 2020 numbers we came up with:
- Jackson: 510 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- Kelley: 434 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
- Combined: 4.72 yards per carry, 59 yards per game, 0.5 touchdowns per game
Mix that with the numbers Ekeler will get and the LA Chargers are going to look really good at running back. If Ekeler carries the ball at the exact same pace as last year, he will finish with 840 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. A combined 1,784 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns is not too shabby.
Now compare the combined backup numbers to Melvin Gordon last season. Granted, Gordon had less then 200 careers, but if we average him to 200 carries we get 756 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns.
Gordon had the advantage in touchdowns but our averages are fairly small because of how often Kelley carried the ball in college as well as the opportunities in which Jackson has gotten. The duo will carry the ball close to the endzone and will almost certainly surpass 10 touchdowns.
Is Justin Jackson or Joshua Kelley more talented than Melvin Gordon? Not yet, and there is more than just running ball.
However, with Jackson and Kelley in a combined effort, the LA Chargers are much better without Melvin Gordon. The team gets more production per 200 carries and Austin Ekeler will get a chance to be the true RB1. Win-win.