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Scouting Exercise: Evaluating Melvin Gordon Based on Eight Key Traits

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Needless to say, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is something of a touchy subject among Chargers fans. You can more or less divide the fanbase into two distinct groups – the group that believes he’s “elite”, and the group that believes he’s a below average NFL running back. Sure, there are some camped out somewhere in between, but for the most part, fans either love him or hate him.

What I’ve found is most of the fans who love Melvin defend him in the most general of terms, suggesting he’s “talented” and possesses “elite traits”, without really providing much in the way of objective analysis to support that position. Meanwhile, those who don’t care for him will point to his lack of vision, lack of decisiveness, and other shortcomings in his game to support their position.

Opinions of Melvin are so split that I thought it would be interesting to run something of a scouting exercise on Twitter, and that exercise looked like this:

Let’s examine the results of this scouting exercise. We’ll start by breaking down the results from the 29 participants based on highest grade, lowest grade, average grade, and most common grade. (It should be noted I did not share my thoughts during the exercise in order to avoid contaminating the results.) From there I’ll share my grades, some personal thoughts on each trait, and a few comments from the participants.

Vision

Most Common Grade: 3

Highest Grade: 6

Lowest Grade: 1

Average: 3.28

My grade: 3

Analysis: The grades for Gordon’s vision were probably the most predictable of the bunch because, let’s face it, Melvin doesn’t see the field well. Sure, he’ll hit a gaping hole if it’s where it’s supposed to be, but he isn’t likely to find running lanes on his own. While he isn’t completely blind, he’s definitely the proverbial drunk feeling his way through a dark room.

Decisiveness

Most Common Grade: 3

Highest Grade: 6

Lowest Grade: 1

Average: 3.04

My Grade: 3

Analysis: Again, these results weren’t terribly surprising. Whether it’s the pitter-patter of his feet, or completely stopping behind the line of scrimmage, Melvin Gordon is one of the least decisive backs in the NFL. And let’s not confuse what MGIII does with what Le’Veon Bell does because he isn’t being patient or setting up blocks, he’s hesitating and its indicative of a lack of football instincts.

Lateral Quickness

Most Common Grade: 6

Highest Grade: 9

Lowest Grade: 4

Average: 5.92

My Grade: 3

Analysis: This is one of two areas in which the grades caught me completely off guard. Most of the participants think Melvin possesses slightly above average lateral quickness (also known as short area quickness), which I find confusing. At his best, Melvin Gordon is a downhill, straight-line runner who may step out of the occasional ankle tackle, but possesses nothing in the way of a jump cut, jab step or even the slightest bit of wiggle that would allow him to make someone miss in tight quarters.

Speed

Most Common Grade: 7

Highest Grade: 9

Lowest Grade: 4

Average: 6.85

My Grade: 7

Analysis: The participants and I are pretty much on the same page here. No one is going to confuse Melvin Gordon with the likes of Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt, but he also isn’t a complete slug. Melvin needs 10-15 yards of open field to build a full head of steam (poor initial burst) and a top gear that allows him to break 20+ yard runs, but the fact that he’s only broken three runs of 40+ yards in almost three years suggests he isn’t going to run away from most NFL defenses. I also question his endurance on long runs because he doesn’t appear to maintain that top gear for very long once it’s engaged. Again, he’s above average, but not elite.

Power

Most Common Grade: 7

Highest Grade: 8.5

Lowest Grade: 2

Average: 6.53

My Grade: 7

Analysis: Once again, I more or less agree with the participants here. Melvin has power. He’s exhibited strong leg at times and has flashed a willingness to drop his shoulder in order to finish physical runs. Unfortunately, it’s hit or miss because he still prefers running around defenders to running over them even though, as we’ve outlined above, he’s at his best as a downhill runner and isn’t very effective moving laterally. I think it’s there, and it’s above average, but it isn’t elite by any stretch.

Elusiveness

Most Common Grade: 5

Highest Grade: 7.5

Lowest Grade: 2

Average: 4.79

My Grade: 3

Analysis: Over half of the participants in this exercise gave Melvin grades ranging from 5 to 7.5 in elusiveness, which confuses me. Melvin certainly has a knack for stepping through tackles at the first level, but he has never exhibited an ability to cut back or change directions in the open field once he gets moving downhill. There is really nothing sudden, or twitchy about him. Quite to the contrary, he is more apt to run straight into contact in the open field than he is to make someone miss. He is well below average in this regard.

Pass Protection

Most Common Grade: 6

Highest Grade: 8

Lowest Grade: 3

Average: 5.58

My Grade: 7

Analysis: Pass protection is one of the areas in which I think Melvin has shown the most improvement since his rookie year when he was a liability. He isn’t without his flaws and mental lapses in this part of his game, but he has ascended to the point where he’s a slightly above average blocker.

Receiving

Most Common Grade: 7

Highest Grade: 9

Lowest Grade: 5

Average: 7.4

My Grade: 7

Analysis Receiving is the other area in which I think Melvin has made major progress in his 2+ years in the league. His contributions in the screen and swing-passing game have been a key part of the offense and the unit feels it when he isn’t involved in that regard. While I think his receiving skills are both improved and valuable, he runs a fairly limited route tree and isn’t someone I would trust to line up out wide and create consistent mismatches with linebackers, which keeps him out of the “elite” category in this trait.

Melvin Gordon can be extremely frustrating to watch because, more often than not, the plus physical traits he possesses are negated by what is best described as a lack of intangibles, or instincts. In other words, his speed and power are consistently nullified by his lack of vision and decisiveness, which limit his ability to make the most of his opportunities. Add to that a complete lack of lateral quickness and elusiveness and you have yourself a talented but inefficient player who ultimately struggles with shortcomings that aren’t likely to be enhanced through training.

And that’s why I think the Chargers offensive staff finds its self in something of a conundrum when designing their weekly game plans. While the offense is clearly better when it runs through Melvin as a runner and a receiver, his instinctive shortcomings make him inefficient to the point that one could argue he doesn’t deserve the touches they need to give him in order for Melvin and the offense to succeed. I have my issues with how Ken Whisenhunt calls games, but I also don’t envy him.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this scouting exercise, I really appreciate it.

That’s what we think of Melvin Gordon…how would YOU evaluate those traits on a scale of 1-to-10?