Melvin Gordon is presumed to have all of the qualities that Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco has wanted in each of the other three running backs he brought to San Diego all rolled into one: the top-end speed that Donald Brown showed in Indianapolis; the “lunch box” work ethic of Branden Oliver; the receiving potential and craftiness of Danny Woodhead.
That presumption is exactly why San Diego traded up just two spots to get him. Sending the 17th overall selection, as well as a 4th rounder this year and a 5th in 2016, San Diego jumped Houston to take residence in San Francisco’s 15-spot. The trade was a tad puzzling as Houston doesn’t have a need at running back with Arian Foster and Alfred Blue in the backfield, but it’s possible that a team like Baltimore or Arizona would have targeted Gordon and traded up.
Gordon is a product of the Wisconsin Badgers, and his production in his senior year was flat-out absurd. He finished just 51 yards shy of Barry Sanders’ single season rushing record with 2,587. In 14 games, Gordon scored 29 touchdowns on the ground and averaged an astounding 184.8 yards a game. Against Nebraska he bested another former Charger runner’s NCAA single game rushing record with 408 yards – that running back? LaDainian Tomlinson. Gordon would have annihilated the mark had he played a single down in the 4th quarter.
“So, what you’re saying is that he’s the next great running back in the NFL!? LOOK AT ALL THOSE YARDS AND TOUCHDOWNS!”
Well, hold your horses (or Badgers). There’s a healthy scepticism to sit with here. Melvin Gordon is part of a long line of productive running backs at Wisconsin. Chargers fans will remember Montee Ball, the Broncos’ running back heralded as the college touchdown king who was going to be Peyton’s sidekick. Ball tied Sanders’ record for touchdowns in a season in 2011 with 39, and after an injury he’s unlikely to get his starting job back from C.J. Anderson.
Wisconsin has had a 1,000 yard rusher every year since 2005. In 2010 and 2013, they had two on the team. Wisconsin runs the ball well thanks to a great scheme and dominant offensive linemen. This year they got 1895 yards from every other runner in their offense. Before Gordon there was James White, and Montee Ball before him, and John Clay before him, and so on and so forth.
Questions remain about whether or not Gordon is any different from his predecessors. The Nebraska game was a display of his fantastic top gear speed and ability in the open field, but it also comes with a grain of salt. Gordon could do whatever he wanted, but rarely was there a missed block on the line. Whenever the Badgers went off the edge, it was there. Gordon had 9 touches outside the tackles for 262 yards and three touchdowns, 6 of which went for 25+ yards. A tractor trailer could have driven through some of those lanes with ease.
Against Ohio State, the only thing that could’ve created any holes was that same tractor trailer forcing players to jump out of the way. Wisconsin was shut out 59-0 and Gordon had just 76 yards.
The two games are the best and the worst of Gordon.
The most honest display of his skill set is probably The Outback Bowl against Auburn. Gordon finished with 34 carries for 251 yards, but it was how he produced and not what he produced that is impressive. Gordon displayed patience and vision in the backfield as well as setting up his blocks so that there were little to no negative plays. As per usual, when Gordon had the edge he took it and ran with it outstandingly. To start the second half, Wisconsin busted off seven straight run plays and Gordon finished off the drive with a touchdown.
The ability that Gordon has that might help him most in San Diego is setting up his blocks. Although the addition of Orlando Franklin to the offensive line will help their running game immensely, the uncertainty that sits at centre and right guard for San Diego could break any gains they make with Gordon at running back. San Diego was 30th in rushing last year, and the looks and lanes given to Gordon at Wisconsin might just not be there in San Diego, so he’s going be in tough and have to manufacture his own space on some plays.
Still, the game-breaking ability of Gordon was too tantalizing for Telesco to risk not having. He felt that the Chargers needed a young star, and he got one.
The Philip Rivers situation must have also played a precarious role in the pick as well. As well noted these past few weeks, Rivers hasn’t signed a contract extension and the trade rumours swirled around him and the Tennessee Titans 2nd overall pick.
Selecting Melvin Gordon might have been something to help entice Rivers to stay. If Gordon works out, he takes a load of pressure off of Rivers and play-action could have an impact on how much of a beating Rivers takes game in and game out. If San Diego selects one of their other needs (interior DL, offensive line, edge rusher), and grabs a running back in the second round it might not have the same power as taking a player like Gordon.
Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy took a swing for the bleachers moving up and picking Gordon. It’s a copycat league, and San Diego is hoping they can recreate the successes of Aaron Rodgers & Eddie Lacy, and Tony Romo & DeMarco Murray this past year.
On Wisconsin, goes the Chargers’ backfield.
Main Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images