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Stop Comparing Melvin Gordon to LaDainian Tomlinson

Melvin Gordon is a young running back for the San Diego Chargers who is having struggles in his rookie season but has plenty of athleticism and had a stellar college career. That doesn't make him LaDainian Tomlinson.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I am so sick and tired of people telling me that Melvin Gordon is no worse than LaDainian Tomlinson was his rookie season. They're wrong. They're 100% wrong. Now, it's time to prove it.


This one has me seriously concerned for the math skills of San Diego Chargers fans.

"Melvin Gordon fumbles just as much as LaDainian Tomlinson did in his rookie season, and LT was able to turn it around!"

Through 13 games, Melvin Gordon has 6 fumbles (4 lost). Through 16 games, LaDainian Tomlinson had 8 fumbles (5 lost).


Stop it. Do some math. Use your eyes. Search your memory. Trust your feelings, you know this one to not be true. Melvin Gordon is not LaDainian Tomlinson.

In his rookie season, LaDainian fumbled the ball 8 times but did so on 398 touches. That is a fumble once every 49.75 touches.

Melvin Gordon's 6 fumbles have come on 201 touches. That is a fumble once every 33.5 touches.

A difference of 16 touches makes LT about 50% better, statistically, at holding onto the ball in his rookie season than Melvin Gordon. That is a lot. It's not close.

Ryan Mathews, who was chased out of town by rabid fans who were sick of his fumbling problems, fumbled once every 36 touches as a rookie and averaged a fumble every 131 touches in his final two seasons with the San Diego Chargers.

That is a much better comparison for fans to make. Mathews fixed his fumbling problems, and Melvin Gordon could possibly do the same.

Yards Per Attempt

Another one that drives me batty.

"Melvin Gordon has the same yards-per-attempt in his rookie season that LaDainian Tomlinson had!"

Sure, this one is technically true. As it currently stands, Melvin Gordon's 3.6 yards-per-attempt matches up perfectly with LaDainian Tomlinson's 3.6 yards-per-attempt. However, that's only half the story.

Now, if there's one thing LaDainian Tomlinson taught us, it's that yards-per-attempt are a somewhat faulty stat to judge a running back on, for two similar reasons.

  1. A running back has his yards-per-attempt eaten into if more of his runs are ended by him entering into the end zone.
  2. A running back's chief value, even above getting yards on each carry, is getting into the end zone

I could run the numbers again, and tell you that LT got into the end zone once every 39.8 touches in his rookie season and that Mathews got into the end zone once every 25.7 touches in his rookie season, but it wouldn't be fair to compare considering Melvin Gordon has not found his way into the end zone once.

Where Mathews and LT were having their YPA cut off, and their value upped, by running into the end zone....every single one of Gordon's yards have been less meaningful and impossible to inflate via circumstance.

The Team Around Him

"Melvin Gordon is struggling to get going because of the poor talent on the roster around him."

Are you serious?

First of all, the argument that LT was running behind a better line is nuts. Look at this cast of characters:

  • LT - Damion McIntosh
  • LG - Raleigh Roundtree
  • C - Kendyl Jacox
  • RG - DeMingo Graham
  • RT - Vaughn Parker

Not exactly Murderer's Row. I won't argue that they're worse than the 2015 Chargers offensive line, but I can't argue that they were much better.

LT's QB was a 39-year-old career backup that was too short to compete in the NFL (Doug Flutie). And the WRs that were being thrown to included the likes of Jeff Graham and Trevor Gaylor. Tomlinson walked into a team that went 1-15 the year before for a reason.

Ryan Mathews' situation wasn't much better. The 2010 Chargers had just about the worst special teams of all time. Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill held out for nearly the first half of the season. The leading receivers on the team were Malcom Floyd, Patrick Crayton, and Legedu Naanee.

All of these guys were relied upon to carry big chunks of the offensive load due to the poor talent around them, and Gordon has been far and away the least successful of the three in his rookie campaign.

"Why do you hate Melvin Gordon?"

I don't. I promise. I know that the standard response to this post, as is the standard response every time I talk about Melvin Gordon, is to ask why I hate him.

I don't hate Melvin Gordon. As a player, I think he's fine. Had the team not leveraged a pretty large chunk of its future to obtain him, I'd be excited about everything he does.

The kid is obviously electric because he has top-line athleticism (if not top-line speed) and an NFL-ready body. He seems eager to learn, please, and succeed. These are all good things.

What I don't like, outside of Gordon's lack of patience and vision, is the comparisons. Just because LaDainian Tomlinson and Melvin Gordon both struggled during their rookie seasons does not mean that Gordon is the player that Tomlinson was. Anyone who watched and remember those games could tell you that isn't true and the stats are there to back them up.