A few days ago, John Gennaro wrote an article updating us all on Melvin Gordon’s progression as a starting running back in the NFL. While I did not love the pick at the time (I wanted Gurley or Ajayi), and I really didn’t like that Tom Telesco’s Chargers traded up to get Melvin Gordon, there is no use in bitching and moaning about it now. What’s done is done, all we can do now is hope that the Chargers can get at least 4 good years out of Melvin Gordon and then draft someone (in the later rounds) who can run behind a hopefully revamped offensive line, because that is a huge area of need over the next few seasons. It can be argued that the whole left side of the line needs to be replaced, as King Dunlap and Matt Slauson are in their 30s, and Orlando Franklin isn’t playing up to his contract. But, this article is about Melvin Gordon, not how the Chargers should do better at acquiring talent for the offensive line.
Last year, Melvin Gordon was a far cry from his college days, as he led the league in rushing fumbles, and on a combined 217 touches, was unable to punch it into the end zone. We all know that Melvin Gordon broke the kind of record you don’t want to break, and had the most touches in a long time without scoring. You could mention that stat, but you’d also have to look at the fact that the vast majority of goal line snaps went to Danny Woodhead last year, and Melvin Gordon received less than 5 the whole year if I’m correct. This year, he’s received the most red zone carries in the league and is currently tied for 2nd in TDs. If that doesn't show that he grinds out the tough yards that the team needs, maybe this will.
Melvin Gordon was 3rd in college in racking up yards after contact. Last year, he needed to, and this year has been much of the same, as he gets hit early and has to constantly fight for more yards (which at least one of the fumbles can be blamed on. According to Pro Football Focus, Melvin Gordon forced .18 missed tackles per attempt (8th in the league) and averaged 2.2 yards after contact. Considering that he averaged 3.6 YPC last year, he was getting hit at an average depth of 1.4 yards from the line of scrimmage.
I don’t believe that these kinds of stats are out just yet, but Melvin Gordon is passing the eye test this season despite more poor run blocking by the offensive line. He looks more decisive, confident, and never stops moving his legs. The team trusts him a lot more, as he’s received a ton of goal line carries. To me, it looks like Melvin Gordon rarely gets stuffed and that’s it. I constantly see him trying to evade tacklers, break tackles, and get those extra yards. In my opinion, that’s what you need from a running back. It is forcing defenders to load that box, which is taking pressure off of Philip Rivers and extra defenders off of Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, and Dontrelle Inman. If you haven't seen, Philip Rivers is quietly having a very good year. Last year, due to the poor run game, he wasn’t able to carry the load himself. Melvin Gordon is doing just enough, and demanding enough attention from the defense that it’s allowing Philip Rivers time to throw to his less than stellar receivers. If you haven’t noticed, the play action is working a lot better this year.If Keenan Allen were back, I guarantee Melvin Gordon’s numbers would increase, as Keenan Allen almost demands a double team, which leaves open Travis Benjamin, and if you use safety help on him, you have fewer guys in the box trying to tear Gordon’s head off.
Is he one of the best runners in the league? Probably not, but it’s hard to gauge that when you consider the different variables. If he was running behind the same O-line as Ezekiel Elliot, his numbers would be slightly less, as he does not have the breakaway speed to end long runs in TDs. This article was less about statistics that can be sewn however you want and more about using your eyes and seeing the improvements that Melvin Gordon has made in just one offseason. Considering he is probably one of the hardest workers on the Chargers, you can expect him to get better each and every year. Regardless, grading an HB is pretty objective, and you can make stats say anything you want. He is constantly fighting for extra yards and has been money in the red zone. That’s all you really need from a runner in the NFL.