A 2-year deal surely isn’t what Melvin Gordon expected when he held out for the first four games of the 2019 season in hopes of a lucrative long-term contract with the Chargers. The former Wisconsin product was drafted by the Bolts with the number 15 overall pick in 2015 and has put together a stable professional career to this point. The Denver Broncos jumped at the chance to sign their former in-division foe with a 2-year, $16 million contract – a lucrative deal, although not the multi-year contract he expected from his former team. Gordon alluded to having a better financial offer from a different team, but spoke to his desire to stay in the AFC West and play the Chargers twice – he’ll be running angry in 2020. Gordon is a throwback at the running back position, more of a one-cut and go type of guy who has improved in receiving and pass protection over time. He’s a three-down back and figures to factor in heavily to the Denver offense this season.
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Gordon’s 2019 campaign was marred by his holdout and disputes with team personnel, but he was pretty productive when he was on the field. He continued his elite red-zone ability with touchdowns in half of his games played, although the Chargers’ 3-9 record didn’t help his ability to produce. Gordon is more of a grinder at the running back position and benefits from a positive game script – something he didn’t see much of last season. It’s important to note that he was able to produce for fantasy even while splitting time with Austin Ekeler in the backfield. Gordon only played on about 55% of snaps for the Chargers and still was a borderline top-12 guy in per-game fantasy scoring.
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Many people criticized the Broncos’ decision to give Gordon $13.5 million guaranteed since they already have two serviceable running backs – Philip Lindsay and Royce Freeman – on the roster. Lindsay, in particular, has been impressive, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his career seasons with the team. I still expect Gordon to lead the backfield in carries and receptions, and I gave him about 60% of the team’s projected carries and 50% of their receptions from the running back position. That will be good for about 250 touches, with the upside for more in an offense that wants to establish a physical running style in 2020.
— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLFantasy) March 31, 2020
ADP & Auction Value
Auction Price: $33
These are just projections at this point because fantasy drafts have yet to start in earnest, but I think the fantasy community will as a whole undervalue Gordon a bit this year. I would love to snag him as my second running back in a redraft league in that range, and his auction price shouldn’t be prohibitively high with the workhorse backs, which will be available this season.
Gordon’s injury history is more significant than you might realize, with multiple injuries to his legs (MCL, PCL, hamstring, etc.) in the past. I’m more confident in him staying healthy than some other players at the position, but that history can’t be ignored. Additionally, new Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has a history in the league of using a workhorse type at the running back position. Of course, he’s never dealt with two players with the combined talent of Gordon and Lindsay, but if Gordon isn’t the preferred option at the position, he might deal with a surprisingly low number of touches. Still, his red-zone ability is undoubtedly a massive reason the Broncos brought him in, and his touchdowns will give him a safe baseline next season.
By that same token, Shurmur could fall in love with Gordon’s physical running style and three-down ability and turn him into a bonafide workhorse in 2020. Gordon has proven himself to be capable in every aspect of the game, from inside and outside running to pass protection, receiving, and blocking, he can do it all. There won’t be a real reason to take him off the field other than to vary the offensive scheme with Lindsay, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Gordon ended up with closer to 70-75% of the workload. If he does, 300+ touches, 1,000+ yards rushing, and 15+ total touchdowns could be in the cards.
Denver Broncos Offense
The Broncos only ranked 17th in rushing yardage in 2020, and their ground game will be the key to their success this year. Vic Fangio wants to establish a physical, clock-killing style on offense that complements their likely dominant defensive unit, and Gordon is the perfect player to be the centerpiece of the attack. Royce Freeman will likely be phased out of the offense, despite his impressive success in the receiving game last year. Lindsay has always been better utilized as a change-of-pace back at 5’8″, 190 lbs he indeed doesn’t profile as an every-down back the way Gordon does. The addition of the veteran running back was undoubtedly geared toward making life easier on Drew Lock, who has five career starts to his name. The offensive stats compiled by Denver last year can almost be disregarded as this team will look different this year. Additions to the defense in Jurrell Casey and A.J. Bouye, as well as the offensive line in Graham Glasgow, has this team looking to compete for a playoff spot in 2020, and Gordon’s ability to handle a massive workload will likely partially dictate their success.
Strength Of Schedule
The three teams in the Broncos’ division – Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders – all ranked in the bottom twelve in the NFL in rush defense last year, per Football Outsiders. Only two defensive linemen – Chris Jones and Joey Bosa – on the three combined teams earned higher than an 83/100 grade per Lineups.com. Gordon should have plenty of room to run against these teams, and the two matchups against the Chargers should feature a juicy revenge game narrative. The Chargers’ and Raiders’ offenses could both struggle next year as well, which would produce some positive game script for Denver.
Unfortunately, five of Football Outsiders’ top six run defenses from 2019 do show up on the Broncos’ schedule (Buccaneers, Jets, Steelers, Saints, Patriots), so it could be a bit of feast or famine for Gordon game-to-game as far as yardage goes. Out of that group, the Saints, Buccaneers, and Steelers figure to have high-end offensive output next season, so Gordon’s usage could be high in that game to keep the ball out of the hands of Brady, Brees, and Big Ben. Matchups against the Dolphins, Falcons, and Panthers will be more generous. Gordon figures to have high usage in all of these games and be heavily utilized in the red zone, where the Broncos struggled as a team in 2019, so he should be a consistently reliable producer all year long.
Despite some tougher opponents showing up on the Broncos’ schedule and a committee situation with Philip Lindsay and, to a lesser extent, Royce Freeman, Melvin Gordon should be a low-end RB1 in 2020. His red-zone capability and three-down skillset should keep him heavily involved in the offense, and John Elway assuaged fantasy players that the team didn’t give up $13.5 million guaranteed for a backup. I’m bullish on Gordon’s upside for this coming season, especially if Denver’s defense performs like I expect it to. Drafting a low-end RB1 in the 4th-5th round range is how fantasy championships are won.
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