Fantasy Impact of Melvin Gordon’s Return to Chargers

With Melvin Gordon ending his holdout and returning to the Chargers, how much of a reduction will running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson see in their roles?
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Recent media reports have indicated that Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will return to the team as early as Thursday. Gordon held out looking for a new contract, but when the Chargers would not budge, he decided to hold out and see if the team would either pay or trade him. Sadly, neither happened and Gordon was losing money week after week. Now he returns so he can stop losing paychecks and earn service time, which should allow him to reach free agency this offseason.

Gordon’s impact will not be felt in Week 4, as it appears that he will not be ready for the game against the Dolphins. However, both the team and Gordon are hoping that he will be ready for Week 5 against Denver.

What to expect when Gordon returns?

I find it hard to imagine that Gordon will go back to being the bell-cow running back for the Chargers. He averaged about 18 touches per game in 2018, and that seems like a reasonable expectation for the remainder of this season. Gordon has had a checkered injury history, so it might behoove the Chargers to give him fewer touches so he can remain fresher as the season progresses.

The player that gets hurt by Gordon’s return most is Austin Ekeler. Ekeler has been nothing short of sensational thus far, rushing for 160 yards and adding 208 receiving yards with four touchdowns this season. It’s the number of touches that will decrease for Ekeler and will hurt both him and his fantasy owners.

In the first three games of the season, Ekeler has had 18, 23 and 16 touches. When Gordon played last year, Ekeler averaged about eight touches per game. I can see that number being bumped up a little, but will it surpass 12 touches? Most likely not. So, while Ekeler still holds standalone value in fantasy circles, he will no longer be a top-10 overall fantasy running back.

The other player who gets hurt by Gordon’s return is backup running back Justin Jackson. Jackson has had 18 rushing attempts this season, but with Gordon back and the team’s need to make sure Ekeler touches the football, it seems that Jackson will need an injury to regain significant playing time.

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn will be tasked to make sure that Gordon returns to the lineup seamlessly, but at the same time make sure that Ekeler and Jackson still feel that they are part of the running back committee. It will be a delicate balance for sure.

As for fantasy owners, here is the ultimate low-down:

Gordon becomes a must-start each week but might see a reduction in his overall touches.

Ekeler becomes a start in PPR leagues but will see a reduction of touches. He is a fringe starter in standard league formats.

Jackson becomes a stash and cash type bench player needing an injury to have more value.