Does RB Melvin Gordon Have Gas Left in the Tank?

The Broncos just paid Melvin Gordon big money but at almost 27 years old, does he have enough gas left in the tank to justify the $13.5M guaranteed Denver gave him? The film tells the tale.
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The Denver Broncos have been quite active in 2020 free agency so far under GM John Elway.

The signing of standout interior offensive lineman Graham Glasgow and the trade for All-Pro-caliber defensive lineman Jurrell Casey really got the fan base and the local media going.

Friday morning’s signing of former L.A. Chargers standout running back Melvin Gordon to a two-year, $16 million contract — with $13.5M guaranteed — had some in the fan base in the media scratching their heads.

At face value, a two-year deal around $8M a year is an easy layup for a team that was reportedly searching for a No. 1 RB.

The search for a No. 1 RB is the confusing part, though, considering the Broncos have a Pro Bowl talent coming off of two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons as a former undrafted free agent already on the roster. 

This move certainly strengthens the running back room, but Phillip Lindsay has to be frustrated. What more did Lindsay need to show?

All that is water under the bridge now, as Gordon is a Bronco.

However, the 2019 season was a rough one for Gordon, who held out from training camp for more money, turning down an offer of more than $10M/year from the Chargers. That holdout lasted just one week into the regular season, but upon his return, Gordon didn’t look the same in terms of explosiveness, vision, and overall feel for the game.

On the Ground

Let’s face it; Gordon was a shell of himself last year on the ground. The two-time Pro Bowler averaged just 3.8 yards per pop and finished with a career-low 612 rushing yards.

What stunned me when researching and analyzing film of Gordon for this piece was that just once in his career has he averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in a single season. In 2018, Gordon averaged 5.1 yards per tote.

Here, in 2018, against the San Francisco 49ers, Gordon flashed that quickness, vision, and ability to create after contact.

The great thing here is that Gordon was explosive laterally and showed the sharp vision to cut back inside. From there, his contact balance stands out at the end, ripping through two defenders to finish off the 34-yard run.

The problem is, runs like this didn’t necessarily show up consistently on tape in 2019.

Against the Oakland Raiders late in the year, Gordon started to show some juice, especially on outside runs.

The lateral quickness and overall burst aren’t there, but you can see the vision and balance start to show up again, allowing him to get north in a hurry.

In Week 17, Gordon certainly looked like himself, ripping off a similar run to the first clip shown earlier in the article.

I love the way he sets up the two Kansas City defenders on the perimeter, jumping this run back inside before using his power to stick a shoulder into a defender and break free.

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Pass Catcher

Gordon is a serviceable check-down option out of the backfield, without a doubt. Hauling in 224 passes over his career, Gordon has shown soft, consistent hands and can make defenders miss after the catch.

Just don’t expect him to run a full route tree and move all over the formation like former teammate Austin Ekeler could.

Again in Week 17 against the Chiefs, Gordon put some nice reps on tape in the final game leading into his free agency tour.

LB Anthony Hitchens didn’t stand a chance in coverage in the box against Gordon. This is where and how Gordon can win. He has to use his short-area explosiveness to win in space against defenders as a pass-catcher.

You can see the ability after the catch too.

Flashing back to 2018 again here, Gordon showed a ton of juice in space against the Raiders on his way to a 66-yard touchdown.

It’s just a simple dump off, but he makes multiple defenders miss on the way to the end zone.

How Gordon Helps

With a young QB in Drew Lock entering just his second year, and a number of playmakers already in the building offensively, Gordon could really thrive in a committee role with Lindsay in OC Pat Shurmur’s offense.

There’s still some serviceable juice left in Gordon at this point in his career both as a runner and as a receiving threat. He’ll be 27 at the start of the season and has just 1,283 touches in his career. That’s an average of roughly 256 or so touches per year he's been in the league.

The Catch

The problem is, Gordon is always nicked up. Through five seasons, he has missed 13 games, playing a full 16-game schedule just once. 

He’s dealt with a ligament tear in his knee, sprained his MCL twice in separate seasons, an ankle injury, a pulled quad, and a hip sprain. They’re all lower-body injuries, and that’s a major concern for a running back.

According to sportsinjurypredictor.com, Gordon is projected to miss 1.3 games in 2020.

Bottom Line

Overall, it’s a fine signing by Elway. Gordon is coming in with a chip on his shoulder and should fit in nicely in Shurmur’s zone rushing attack. Still needing some defensive line help, it’s a head-scratcher to allocate resources to the RB position, but it’s hard to hate the addition of a former first-round talent like Gordon. 

Follow Josh on Twitter @ByJoshCarney and @MileHighHuddle