Second-year running back Javonte Williams tore his ACL in Week 4, ending his season and leaving a gaping hole in the Denver Broncos backfield. Melvin Gordon figured to be the starter and fantasy football beneficiary in Williams’ absence, but the team recently signed Latavius Murray off of the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Now that there are two older running backs competing for the same job, which one has the better chance of being the valuable option in fantasy football?
Not only does #Broncos RB Javonte Williams have a torn ACL, but the MRI revealed a a torn LCL and posterior lateral corner, sources say. A significant injury and a long road back.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 3, 2022
Fantasy Football: Melvin Gordon, Latavius Murray Season Outlook
The 2022 Version of Melvin Gordon
It wasn’t that long ago that Melvin Gordon was one of the most valuable players in all of fantasy football. Selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Gordon had a disappointing rookie season before breaking out in his second year. Gordon put up a top-10 finish every year from 2016 to 2018 and followed it up with three straight RB2 finishes.
Melvin Gordon was a great running back in his day, and at his peak, nobody would deny that he was able to handle a full three-down workload. However, he hasn’t handled that role in a while. During his heyday, Gordon saw approximately a 70% opportunity share. During his first year in Denver back in 2020, Gordon was the unquestioned starter but still only managed a 62.9% opportunity share. While splitting time with a rookie Javonte Williams last year, Gordon’s opportunity share dropped down to 51.5%.
Perhaps Gordon’s drop in volume had everything to do with Williams’ talent. If that were the case, then we could safely assume that Gordon returns to the 60% opportunity share he earned during his lone season as Denver’s unquestioned starter. However, now that he’s playing in his age-29 season, we need to consider the possibility that Gordon simply doesn’t have it anymore.
Latavius Murray and Melvin Gordon Comparison
We all know that running back production falls off a cliff seemingly overnight, as the physical nature of the position leads to a short lifespan for most players. Already approaching 30, Gordon is notably older than the average running back, and, to put it bluntly, Gordon simply has not played well this year.
Through four weeks, Gordon has recorded just 139 yards on 37 carries (3.8 YPC) while leading all running backs with four fumbles. The advanced numbers don’t paint a prettier picture, as he ranks 49th in yards created per touch (1.69), 33rd in juke rate (19.0%), and dead last in PFF grade among eligible running backs (44.1). Rushing production has more to do with the situation than the actual running back, but you need to have a base level of talent in order to succeed in the NFL. Granted, it’s a small sample, but based on everything we’ve seen to date, Melvin Gordon might not have that talent anymore.
Much like Gordon, Latavius Murray is not the player he once was. However, limited evidence suggests he might have more in his tank than Gordon does in his. Murray saw extended action for the first time last week, and he was up for the task. Splitting time with Mark Ingram, Murray ended the night with 57 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries to go along with an 82.7 PFF grade, which would be the third-best in the league if he had enough snaps to qualify. Obviously, Latavius Murray is not the third-best running back in football, but it shows that he has some tread left on his tires.
With samples this small, we need to go back to get a better understanding of Latavius Murray. Murray spent 2021 as Baltimore’s primary starter, finishing the season with 119 carries for 501 yards (4.2 YPC) and six touchdowns. Looking at the advanced metrics, Murray finished the year ranked 51st in yards created per touch (1.75), 54th in juke rate (12.5%), and 44th in PFF grade (65.5). Basically, 2021 Murray and 2022 Gordon have similar metrics, but Murray’s superior PFF grade, 2022 performance, and traditional results make him more likely to be the better back in 2022.
Javonte Williams went down midway through Denver’s battle against the Las Vegas Raiders, which means that we do have a bit of a sample to extrapolate. Interestingly enough, journeyman running back Mike Boone actually out-snapped Gordon following Williams’ injury by a fairly significant margin. Now, some of this might have to do with Gordon’s previous fumble or it could be small sample noise, but it shouldn’t be completely ignored.
#Broncos RB Usage with Javonte Williams leaving early due to knee injury
– Mike Boone: 33% snaps, 3 carries, 3 targets
– Melvin Gordon: 19% snaps, 3 carries, 1 target
Gordon continues to have fumble issues. Boone is a waiver wire target if Javonte misses time
— Michael F. Florio (@MichaelFFlorio) October 2, 2022
If the team was willing to let Mike Boone see more work than Gordon, then it stands to reason that Murray should have an immediate path to playing time. Ultimately, Gordon’s familiarity with the offense will earn him the starting job out of the gate, but nobody should be too surprised if Latavius Murray wins the starting job before long.
However, no matter which player ends up starting, both guys will be involved in this offense. This will likely be a two-headed backfield, with Gordon being the 1A early in the season before giving the job to Murray later in the year. Volume alone will make the 1A a low-end RB2 on a weekly basis, while the 1B of the week will be a low-end flex play.