Star Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon revealed Wednesday he will declaring for the NFL draft, first announcing it on the Dan Patrick Show and later confirming in multiple places, including to Chicago Tribune reporter Teddy Greenstein. This isn’t a shock at all, as Gordon rushed for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns in the regular season and accomplished everything he sought out to do when he returned for his redshirt junior season.
If Gordon wanted to prove to the NFL that he could be an every down back who could rush with power and speed, showing no discretion between getting to the edge or falling forward for tough yards on a dive, he certainly did that.
"He has big speed after getting through the first line of defense," Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage told SI.com. "His NFL comparison is Jamaal Charles. He only had 82 carries his first two years, so he has plenty of mileage left on the odometer."
In Brian Hamilton’s story on Gordon in last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, the Heisman finalist explained his drive to represent Running Back U well this season.
“I’ve always talked about not dropping the ball as a running back here,” Gordon told Hamilton. “It’s just a pride thing, man. Every running back who has started here had a great career and helped lead the team to great success. They took the team to greater heights. I wanted to keep the bar high. That’s just how it is.”
A focus for Gordon heading into this season was to show off his receiving skills. He hauled in 17 catches for 151 yards and three scores, an improvements on his three career catches for 75 yards before this season but still not an eye-popping total. That’s not to say he can’t catch the ball; the Wisconsin aerial attack was uneven and at times downright awful as neither Joel Stave nor Tanner McEvoy showed any sort of consistency. The pair completed 55 percent of their passes with a 13:13 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
There was nothing inconsistent about Wisconsin’s rushing attack. The team had 4,082 yards and 43 touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry, of course with Gordon leading the charge. Filling his shoes will be rising junior Corey Clement, who had 844 yards on 132 carries this year and could just be Wisconsin’s next great feature back.
As for Gordon, it’s hard to see the Heisman finalist as anything other than the first back taken in next year’s NFL draft. He is durable, has speed and does just about everything a team would want its running back to do. While Georgia’s Todd Gurley will draw plenty of NFL interest as well, his torn ACL could leave front office executives skeptical.
“Gordon's a second-round pick,” Bleacher Report college football video analyst Michael Felder told SI.com. “With the Gurley injury I don't expect to see a single running back picked in the first round. (Gordon) is a back that's fast enough to hit the crease, has good vision when space presents itself, and ultimately his ability to catch the ball is going to be an additional asset as a guy who can step in and compete for time early.”
Former NFL Scout John Middlekauff sees it the same way. He is quick to point out teams can find starters in the second round and that a late first round or second round grade for a running back in today's league isn't a knock on the guy's possible production.
“I think the sky’s the limit just because he’s so explosive,” Middlekauff told SI.com. “He’s so instinctive. His production speaks for itself. You’ll get to see at the combine, just in terms of what his build is. Let’s face it, in the NFL at running back, that’s pretty important. There’s been some late first round talk, and for a running back nowadays that’s like top 10.”
The era of the NFL feature back has faded in response to the rise of the passing attack, and as a result running backs have been taken later and later in recent years. No running back was taken in the first round of either of the past two seasons’ drafts, and former Washington star Bishop Sankey, the first back taken in 2014, did not go until the Tennessee Titans selected him with the 54th pick.
It's still too early to tell if Gordon will break that streak, but he certainly has the chance to make an impact at the next level.