Early Round Landmines – Melvin Gordon

The early rounds of 2017 MFL10 drafts are a chilling place to be. The dread begins to creep in late in the first round, once we leave the land of the elite eight, and doesn’t really ease up until the noose begins to loosen around round four.

The top eight seem set in stone.


Fresh off the warm and fuzzy feeling of drafting a Mike Evans or Odell Beckham, things quickly deteriorate as the slow realization dawns that we have to spend a late-first or second-round pick choosing between a lot of guys with a lot of question marks.

A busted early-round pick can destroy your draft in a hurry. It’s an immense amount of capital, and getting it right is crucial. I predict picking your way through these potential early-round landmines will lead to a a lot of lost sleep this summer. Or is that just me?

I’m going to take a look at a number of players the first few rounds who cause me cold sweats, and I’ll attempt to answer the question – is the fear justified?

Next up, Melvin Gordon.



Melvin Gordon is being drafted as if he should be expected replicate his TD-fueled 2016 splash of a second season. He was the RB7 in PPR last year, and you’re probably going to have to use a first-round pick to get him this year. He, along with LeSean McCoy and Devonta Freeman, are among the first players to go after the big eight.

download (3)

Unlike McCoy, who I looked at as another potential early-round landmine, Gordon doesn’t have a track record which would give me much comfort in taking him so highly. While McCoy has five 1,000-yard seasons to his name, Gordon has none.

download (5)

Gordon’s RB1 stature was fueled largely by a high TD total (after scoring none as a rookie) and buoyed by a surprising aptitude for the passing game. While the latter is a nice bonus, the former is concerning, as relying on TDs from year to year is a risky proposition.

But the number that stands out most to me is the yards per carry of 3.9 last season. This is not elite territory. Or is it? Let’s turn to to RotoViz Screener for some context.

I set the RotoViz Screener to find all the RBs drafted in the first round who weigh more than 200 pounds (Gordon weighs 215), and who averaged less than four yards per carry in their first two seasons in the league at the same age as Gordon. The columns marked N1 show what that player did the following season.


It’s an interesting list of names. Trent Richardson’s demise was a shock to many, and perhaps his lowly YPC should have been a harbinger of things to come. Knowshown Moreno had a sole RB1 season in 2013. Donald Brown was never in the RB1 conversation. Chris Wells and Darren McFadden are two notable comparisons who averaged less than four yards per carry and were able to follow those seasons up with an improved YPC while also cracking 1,000 yards rushing.

Overall, 22 and 23-year-old backs in their first two years in the league who average less than four yards per carry haven’t put up many RB1-type seasons. Mark Ingram may be the exception, but it took him five seasons to do it.

Perhaps most striking to me is that, of these backs who didn’t crack four YPC, Gordon has the most receiving yards at 419. Not bad for a guy who caught 22 passes in his entire college career. In this regard, he is distantly reminiscent of Ladainian Tomlinson, who was non existent in the passing game in college before becoming one of the best receiving RBs in history.

If Gordon can maintain that role in the passing game and the red zone, his floor should remain relatively safe.


Melvin Gordon was a workhorse in 2016, much of that a result of the injury to Danny Woodhead early in the season. In 2015, Woodhead managed a remarkable 81 receptions, leaving most of that considerable workload to Gordon in 2016, in addition to the bulk of the red zone touches. It was pretty much a perfect storm for Zero RB success. Those now taking Gordon late in the first round are assuming nothing will change in 2017, since Woodhead has moved on to Baltimore.

This is the Chargers depth chart as it currently stands.


download (5)d

Things look promising. There is a decided dearth of NFL-caliber talent on the roster, leaving the door open for Gordon once again.

But the incoming rookie draft class is nothing if not deep at the RB position. There are reports that Joe Mixon remains on the Chargers draft board after a recent visit. Mixon has red flags, sure, but this report should be a red flag to anyone thinking of using a first-round pick on Gordon.

In fact, with so much RB talent likely to be available in the later rounds of the draft, and such a lack of depth on the current roster, the question you have to ask is – why wouldn’t the Chargers invest in another quality RB? In this class, it’s not like that would require a significant investment. I’m not a gambling man,1 but if I were, I would put the odds of the Chargers drafting an RB in the mid-rounds as better than a 50/50 proposition.


There is zero chance I am taking Melvin Gordon in the first round of any format at this point in the offseason.

download (2)

If the NFL Draft comes and goes, and Gordon is still in line for another workhorse season, I may reconsider.

For as much as LeSean McCoy makes me a nervous as a first-round pick, I can at least justify it based on his past production and all-but-guaranteed workload.

None of those factors apply to Gordon. His 2016 breakout was fueled by an unexpected receiving load and a lot of TDs. His low yards-per-carry mark in his first two seasons causes me concern. Couple that with the always-inflated injury risk for RBs, and I’ll be avoiding this particular landmine and letting someone else take one for the team.

Subscribe for a constant stream of league-beating articles available only with a Premium Pass.

  1. I am a gambling man  (back)
By Cort Smith | @cortnall | Archive

Comments   Add comment

  1. As someone who just traded the 1.04 for Melvin this gives me chills (and not the good kind). Here's a couple things I would say in response:
    - Gordon had excellent PFF running grades, suggesting his low YPC was more a function of the offensive line than him not being good at running. PFF grades aren't the be-all and end-all, but they do provide useful context I think.
    - Gordon also had very good receiving and pass-blocking grades. So while his receiving work may have been unexpected, it would be surprising if it did not continue.

    Also think about what the Chargers did this offseason:
    - Signed Okung, who can't pass pro but is a very good run blocker.
    - Signed Anthony Lynn, who loves to run. Gordon's team MS could go down and his raw number of touches stay the same or even go up.

    Also to remember:
    - Chargers invested a ton of draft capital in him and will want to feed him the rock (although granted, it was the old coaching staff).
    - He has the 'pedigree'. And if you look at his time at Wisconsin, it took him a solid year+ before he was any good. Some guys just have a steeper learning curve.

    I would also point out that, while yes 12TD in 14 games is likely not sustainable, it's not a crazy number for a lead back in a good offence.

    Not saying he's not a landmine - pretty much any RB is - but there's lots of positives here too I think.

    Now a selfish question: do people think getting him for the 1.04 was good value?

  2. Gordon was extremely impressive as a receiver last year as RotoDoc found he was the second-best RB (behind Freeman) in terms of depth-adjusted efficiency and one of the top players overall. He might also be faster than his combine times suggested. We know he's agile, especially for his size.

    The Dynasty ADP app has him at No. 18 (since mid-March) and Fournette at No. 20, so his value looks to be slightly above the 1.01.

    I agree with Cort about his MFL10 ADP (any non-Johnson or Bell RB is tough at that level), but I also think you got a great value in your trade.

  3. Pretty cool when your favorite fantasy football writer comments on your comment like that. I told my girlfriend - she was less impressed.

Discuss this article on the RotoViz Forums