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Film Study: San Diego Chargers 1st Round Pick, RB Melvin Gordon

Tom Telesco's job is done. He used the Chargers' 1st round pick on Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon. Now, the onus is on Frank Reich and Mike McCoy to put Melvin Gordon in a position to succeed.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Gordon is a talented player, make no mistake. Gordon was also one of the best athletes at his position, and it's important for both Mike McCoy and Frank Reich to maximize Gordon's value as a weapon. In some ways, they have to mimic what Wisconsin did on offense, and we'll get to that. In other ways, they need to do the exact opposite. So let's start with that.

Getting Gordon into Space

I felt very comfortable with my evaluation on Gordon, and the one thing that I didn't understand was people questioning his ability as a receiver. Just because he wasn't asked to do it often, only 19 receptions this past year, didn't mean he wasn't good at it. One of Gordon's best assets is when he gets the ball in space. The easiest way to do that is by sending Gordon on a route, where he is 1-on-1, and can win with athleticism. There are a couple of very good exposures during the Iowa game. The first one is as simple as it gets.

Wisconsin sells "power" by pulling both backside lineman to create misdirection, which leaves Gordon 1-on-1 with the linebacker and half of the field to work with. I like my odds that Gordon can outrun a linebacker here.

It doesn't have to be a homerun play every time to be a successful play. If the defense is willing to leave your playmakers 1-on-1, you have to make them pay. These are free first downs.

Now, there can be situations where the defense presents itself for a big play. Gordon was 1-on-1 versus Purdue with a linebacker, and ran a wheel route up the sideline for a 27 yard touchdown. The below vine has two plays combined in it, but the first is an example of Gordon's ability in space.

You see Gordon catching the ball comfortably away from his body.

I bring this up because I think Reich lacked creativity with Ryan Mathews as a receiver. I know he had a costly drop here and there, and wasn't great in pass protection, but Mathews was just too good of an athlete to not utilize in space. Gordon is a willing pass protector and knows who to pick up, which is half the battle.

He's going to go through growing pains in pass protection but Reich needs to not let those shortcomings limit Gordon's usage as a receiver. It was better last year with reduced snaps but it can't get to the point where if Gordon is on the field, you know it's a run, and if Danny Woodhead is on the field, you know it's a pass. Creativity is key. The lack of receiving threat out of the backfield held back the offense. I always go back to the Thursday night game where Branden Oliver had a 1-on-1 situation with linebacker Brandon Marshall in space and only made him miss 1 out of 6 times.

Mimic for Melvin

McCoy mentioned at the Senior Bowl how he wanted to get back to being a power running team. So, it's no surprise that an offense like Wisconsin that featured a player like Gordon was so appealing. If you were making a list of the Chargers top running plays, the Badgers feature 3 of the 5.

Let's go over the first such play, the inside zone that features a "wham" block. This is where Gordon needs to improve the most. It's where he second guesses what he sees in the backfield too often and doesn't read the Tight End executing the "wham" block. Here's how it looks for San Diego.


In this example, you'll notice Eddie Royal coming across the formation and block the end man on the line of scrimmage, which is number 23 in this case. The rest of the offensive lineman on the play side block down. It's up to Mathews to read the block of Royal and adjust accordingly.

Even with the shaky attempt from Chris Watt on 52 and the laughable effort from Chad Rinehart on 94, Mathews still ends up 1-on-1 at the second level with the Safety because he correctly reads the play. That's what you want when you draw up this play.

Let's circle back to Gordon, the first game of the year against LSU. Same play, wrong read.


Gordon ends up making a highlight run for 5 yards. Had he read the block, he would have had a 1-on-1 chance with with the DB for a possible home run play. These are the kind of issues that Gordon will need to iron out as a runner in the NFL.

The next staple of the Chargers offense is the "power" run. Gordon's ability on these type of runs are why you trade up for him in the 1st round.

Before we view Gordon, as poor as the offensive line was for the Chargers last year, the running backs still left their fair share of yards on the field. In this example below, much like what the personnel many of Gordon's long runs at Wisconsin came out of, San Diego is in 22 personnel. This is a power play that went for 4 yards when it could have easily gained 20 plus yards.


The thought process when you're in heavy personnel is to pack in the defense, then you are able to isolate your running back 1-on-1 either in the hole or on the perimeter for a big play. The opportunity was there, Oliver just didn't read the play correctly.

One of Gordon's runs in the Outback bowl stood out, when he created a big play on his own with pure athleticism where I doubt one of San Diego's backs would be able to make a year ago.


Not identical but in a similar situation you see how Gordon trusts himself, almost to a fault, that he'll be able to make the play. Those are the big plays that Gordon can manufacture. He has that kind of burst and it should carry over to the next level.

The final play is my favorite run play the Chargers use, albeit sparingly, the counter play. This is a McCoy staple that I hope the team gets back to using next year. Here is a look back at the Patriots game where it was set up beautifully but didn't go according to plan.


Malcom Floyd and Ladarius Green run into each other, throwing off the timing and blocking of the play. Mathews avoids the first defender but can't keep his balance long enough to avoid the second defender. The design is perfect, and with better execution it's a big gain. Which brings us back to Gordon...

On this counter play, Gordon doesn't have anywhere to go, so he makes the smart decision by not boucing it.


He ends up breaking an arm tackle and you see what he can do in tight quarters. He makes the defender look silly and it ends up with a long gain.

These are the types of runs McCoy and Reich need to implement. Runs where Gordon knows where to go, and can rely on his athleticism to win 1-on-1. It's when there is zone blocking and he has to read the play, that's where he second guesses himself and then he gets in trouble. McCoy would be smart to shift to more power runs than zone running.

The last thing I hope Gordon picks up is learning from Woodhead. Gordon runs somewhat tall with his feet narrow. This leads to him being tackled in situations where he shouldn't. Woodhead runs with a nice low center of gravity. That's just one of the many tips Gordon can pick up from Woodhead.