The Los Angeles Chargers hold their training camp practices towards the end of the month. Training camp practices are important because they determine how incoming rookies look, who will be the starters, and how players coming back from injuries have responded to offseason rehab. However, for fans, training camp is much more important. Training camp is a barometer for which players will be fantasy football studs, sleepers, and busts.
Los Angeles is loaded with gems for fantasy football owners. However, for every gem the Chargers offer, there are an equal amount of landmines owners need to avoid. This will be an ongoing series to help fantasy owners navigate through the Los Angeles Chargers roster and determine how/when to use each player. Part 1 of this Los Angeles Fantasy Football Primer focuses on Melvin Gordon and if the hype is real.
2016 Fantasy Recap
To say Melvin Gordon had a bounce back year during his sophomore campaign would be a gross understatement. In 2016, Gordon racked up over 1,400 yards from scrimmage, while scoring 12 total touchdowns. He displayed an excellent combination of speed and power while improving his vision and patience to find and hit the creases his offensive line opened for him.
Speaking of the Chargers offensive line, Pro Football Focus ranked LA as one of the worst lines in football last year. The Chargers offensive line was only able to generate 1.5 yards before contact per carrying, meaning Melvin Gordon was usually on his own. That didn't stop the second year running back, as he was able to make something out of nothing. In fact, Gordon made a whole lot of something out of nothing, as he ranked second in the NFL with 16 big runs (runs of 15 yards or more) in 2016. To complement his big play ability, Gordon also received a ton of red zone opportunities last year. In 2016, Gordon ranked 5th in the NFL with 58 total red zone attempts (50 rushes, and 8 targets).
So Melvin Gordon had a breakout year last year, he is surely in line to replicate his 2016 performance right? Well, fantasy football is eerie similar to the stock market. Meaning past performance is not indicative of future results. In order to determine if Melvin Gordon will continue his upward projection, we need to take a look at what has changed and stayed the same in his environment.
DIFFERENT SCHEME/PERSONNEL= BETTER RESULTS?
So where does that leave Gordon and his skinny calves for the 2017 season? Let’s analyze what has changed for Gordon and the Chargers. L.A. hired Anthony Lynn as their new head coach. For the majority of his career, Lynn has been employed as a successful running backs coach. So the Chargers hired a coach who specializes in getting the most out of his running backs; so what, we’ve been down this road before (Mike McCoy was supposed to “fix” Rivers). But this time it is different. Lynn did not simply implement his offensive philosophies on the existing roster. Instead, Lynn replaced 60 % of L.A.’s offensive line. Gone are the massive, slow footed, ineffective “maulers” (King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, DJ Fluker). In are the more athletic, intelligent, rangy offensive linemen that can get to the second level of a defense (Russell Okung, rookies Forrest Lamp, and Dan Feeney). There is a lot of excitement with this new group and the potential they bring to the Chargers offense. Even if this unit fails to live up to the hype they are receiving and are only a fraction better than the previous group, then Melvin Gordon should at least be able to break off longer runs purely from the fact that these guys can get to the second level better.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Which teams a player faces during the season should never go overlooked by fantasy football owners. According to Fantasy Pros, the Chargers have the 15th easiest rushing schedule for the 2017 NFL Season. Looking at the schedule, I feel like that number is to low, as the Chargers play a lot of teams that were towards the bottom of the league last year stopping the run: Miami (30th), Kansas City (26th), Oakland (23rd), Denver (28th), Buffalo (29th), Cleveland (31st), and Washington (24th).
And I know I said before that past performance does not indicate future results, but I listed these teams above because, for the most part, these teams didn’t do enough to make a significant difference in those rankings. There are other teams that were ranked high last year whose numbers were nothing but a farce. Teams like the Cowboys (whose offense dominated time of possession so their defense could be hidden) or the Jets (whose poor offense will leave their defense on the field for the majority of the game giving opposing offenses plenty of opportunities to rack up the stats) weren't even mentioned above.
In fact, Melvin Gordon only faces four challenges throughout the 2017 fantasy season (Philadelphia, New England, New York Giants, and the Jacksonville Jaguars). Gordon should easily capitalize against this favorable schedule.
Bell cow; it’s a term that describes an NFL running back as the majority ball handler for his team. Once a popular concept, has all but became extinct. Using specialists to help create mismatches has become the newest fad. Whether it is pass-catching specialists on third down, change of pace running backs, or goal line backs to punch it in the end zone, a team now uses the dreaded RBBC approach. So when the Chargers lost Danny Woodhead this past offseason, fantasy owners were left pondering, who will take over for him?
Well, apparently the answer is Melvin Gordon and company. Yes, and company. Meaning the handcuff running backs on the Chargers rosters are nothing but complimentary pieces to give Gordon a breather here and there. Andrew Williams, Branden Oliver, and Kenjon Barner are no real threat of stealing snaps from Gordon. Add in the fact the Chargers didn’t draft another running back or sign a veteran back, speaks volumes. Anthony Lynn and L.A. are more than comfortable feeding Gordon the ball all season-long, making him one of the last bell cow running backs in the league. Devonta Freeman has Tevin Coleman, Mark Ingram has Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray has Derrick Henry, Melvin Gordon has... Andrew Williams?
For all the critics of Melvin Gordon last year who said his numbers were strictly volume driven should realize something; they may have been right, but Gordon will continue to get an abundance of opportunities this year making him an elite play this year.
2017 FANTASY PROJECTIONS
1250 RUSHING YARDS, 500 RECEIVING YARDS, 50 CATCHES AND 13 TOTAL TOUCHDOWNS= 300 FANTASY POINTS
300 fantasy points is elite, but Melvin Gordon still falls short of being a top 3 fantasy running back. 300 points would have ranked Gordon as the 4th best RB last year, exactly where I think he winds up this year.
CONCLUSION: Melvin Gordon will be the 4th ranked fantasy football RB for the 2017 NFL season, making him a SUPERSTAR!