Remember when San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon was a bust?
It wasn’t that long ago. After putting up 2,740 yards from scrimmage and 32 touchdowns in his senior year alone – college sure is a different type of animal – Gordon came into the NFL with a ton of hype. The Chargers drafted him high for a running back, at 15th overall, but man, the guy could produce. The Chargers were used to setting rushing records with LaDainian Tomlinson, and they were eager for a back who would put up video game stats again. Gordon did it in college for sure, and they thought they were set.
Then he ran for 641 yards on 184 carries, didn’t score a single touchdown, and ended up on injured reserve by the end of the year.
Look, we all get that rookies struggle. We know that college stats are inflated because it’s low-quality football. No one expected him to run for 29 touchdowns in the pros.
But zero? No. He looked like an instant bust. People certainly expected more than that. Even five would have been good. Ten would have been much better. Zero was just astounding. To not even get close to 1,000 yards and to end the year hurt – something that always happened to Ryan Mathews, the back he was replacing – just made it worse.
Jump to 2016, though, and Gordon is a new man. In just four games, he’s run for 230 yards and six touchdowns. If he keeps exactly that level of production, he’ll end the year with just over 900 yards and 24 touchdowns.
His touchdown pace isn’t just improved, it’s incredible. It’s so good that there’s no way he’ll realistically keep it up all year. I mean, Tomlinson holds the record at 28.
But the good news is that he should easily be able to keep to that rushing pace, barring injury, because he’s had some down games lately and is still looking that good. After dropping 102 yards on the Jaguars, teams started to key in on him. He had just 35 against Indy and 36 against New Orleans.
So, thinking he was really bottled up? Because he wasn’t. In both of those games, he also had 43 receiving yards. He did it on four catches against Indy and on six catches against the Saints but ended up with the same total. He also ran for a touchdown against the Colts and for two against the Saints.
Sure, the rushing yards were down, but he just found other ways to make teams pay. If they shift to prevent that, the rushing yards will go back up again. Some have pointed to his meager 3.2 yards per carry – lower even than 3.5 from last year – as a problem, and it is slightly concerning, but the receiving yards offset that. The touchdowns offset that. He’s clearly been productive, and that average will edge back up as the year moves forward.
The guy is for real, and it’s already easy to overlook that bad rookie year. To just write it off and forget about it. There’s clearly a lot more talent there than we saw in 2015.
The Chargers deserve a lot of credit. There’s so desperate to replace Tomlinson, and they had a bad experience with Mathews, who was just hurt too much to play up to his massive potential. It would have been easy after Gordon’s rookie year to shake their heads in disgust and give up immediately. To say it was yet another failure and scrap the whole thing.
But they didn’t. They stayed the course, said that they trusted the young back, and went into camp with him as their No. 1 option. Yes, Danny Woodhead is now hurt and out for the year, meaning Gordon has even more to do, but he wasn’t the fallback plan. He was the main guy. Woodhead was the No. 2 option, the third down back.
They let Gordon know that they believed in him. It that sense, it may be good for him to have already gotten that horrible year out of his system. It’s done; it’s over. The team still wants him. That takes a lot of pressure off of him, and it’s made him far better than he was. It’s given him a chance to become the runner the Chargers wanted all along.