The Chargers had thought they found their running back of the future when they drafted Ryan Mathews. Mathews was supposed to be the heir successor of Chargers great (and Hall Of Famer); LaDainian Tomlinson. However, as the fumbles and injuries piled up for Mathews (along with the poor play); it was easy to see why the Chargers needed to go back to the drawing board at the running back position.
Enter Melvin Gordon. At the time, I was probably the only one that supported the selection of the former Wisconsin Badger in the 2015 NFL Draft. Gordon didn’t do me or the Chargers any favors his rookie year. By now, fans all know the numbers associated with Gordon’s rookie year as they have been covered ad nauseam (13 games, 184 rushes, 641 yards, and oh yea 0 touchdowns).
Plenty of fans (and even many contributors of The Bolts From The Blue- I won’t name names) were ready to write Melvin Gordon off after one year. But not me! I still wasn’t convinced Gordon was a bust after one year. Thankfully, Gordon bailed me out and made me look smart with his breakout performance during his second year. The sophomore running back amassed 997 rushing yards, 41 receptions for 419 yards, and 12 total touchdowns. Gordon showed that not only he can be the Chargers bell cow running back, but the center of the Chargers offense.
So with the emergence of Melvin Gordon; the Chargers are all set at the running back position right? Well the answer to that question isn’t as simple as it appears. In fact, the answer to that question is no, Los Angeles is not set at all. As of this moment, Los Angeles does not have a competent running back that could spell Gordon for some plays. Both Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead are free agents this offseason. That leaves Los Angeles with Kenneth Farrow as pretty much the only back up for Melvin Gordon (and we all know how well he did last year).
At first, the thought process for fans would lead them to believe the Chargers should re-sign Branden Oliver. He is younger, cheaper, and has less mileage on him than Danny Woodhead. With all that being said, it is imperative the Chargers actually re-sign Danny Woodhead over Oliver or anyone else.
Woodhead’s style of play greatly contrasts that of Melvin Gordon; whereas Branden Oliver’s style mirrors Gordon’s more. The nine year vet is a crafty route runner who brings another dimension to the Chargers passing game. Woodhead is a serious offensive weapon and a matchup nightmare that can be valuable during certain stretches of games (in particularly when Los Angeles is trailing). His ability to get open and make defenders miss is extremely important. This aspect of Woodhead’s game is what separates himself from Branden Oliver. Oliver is an adequate pass catcher out of the backfield; whereas Woodhead is a receiving threat whenever he lines up next to Rivers. It is his versatility that could really help the Chargers, especially if their receiving core is bitten by the injury bug next year. It was just a year ago where Woodhead had 80 catches for the Chargers and 737 YAC (ranking him number 1 in 2015). Los Angeles would be able to lean on Woodhead in the passing game if one of their talented wide receivers goes down like they have in the past.
Yes Brenden Oliver would be cheaper than Danny Woodhead, but that doesn’t mean Woodhead would be expensive to bring back. Looking outside the organization to the list of free agent running backs this year, Woodhead would be cheaper/better than anyone they could bring in. It was important for Anthony Lynn and Los Angeles to have continuity on the offensive side of the ball. The only way to have continuity would be to have players that are familiar with the system, and Woodhead is most certainly familiar with Whisenhunt’s scheme. Over the years, Philip Rivers and Danny Woodhead have formulated a tremendous rapport, and as a result, Woodhead has become Rivers’ favorite security blanket.
There are concerns with Woodhead’s age and injury history. But, re-signing Woodhead would not change Melvin Gordon’s role in the offense. Gordon should still be the main focal point of the Chargers offense. This is where the classic cliché, less is more, comes into play. Woodhead should be used as a back up and supplemental weapon in the Chargers offense to prevent him from getting injured again. The resigning of Woodhead will also take away some of the wear and tear from Gordon. Lastly, not only would Woodhead provide Gordon with a breather here and there, but he would also continue being a great mentor to ensure Gordon’s growth.