I've been a Melvin Gordon fan from the get-go, but he sure has tested my faith at times. His rookie year was a crap show, but so was the whole Chargers offensive line and offense. What I did see were flashes of vision, burst and finishing ability, albeit quite short and erratic flashes.
Those flashes led me to believe Gordon still had value, despite an awful statistical rookie year. Then, after a season with no touchdowns, he scored 12 in 12 full games his sophomore year. This was great news for his fantasy backers, but also felt pretty lucky that he was getting so many goal-line opportunities. I try not to put much stock into touchdowns unless they are backed up by an offense that gets a player set up for touchdowns on a consistent basis, and Gordon's touchdowns felt somewhat fluky, even though I was happy to have them for my fantasy team. There is a skill in getting into the end zone from the one-yard line, so I'm not going to poo-poo that accomplishment, but so much needs to happen for that situation to get set up for a back.
In 2016, San Diego ranked 11th in rushing attempts from inside the five with 24 and ranked eighth with 24 passing attempts inside the five. The team scored a touchdown 45.8 percent of the time from the ground and 37.5 percent through the air. The Chargers weren't winning last season, but they were moving the ball well enough to get Gordon plenty of opportunities, and in 2017, we should expect a better overall offense with the return of Keenan Allen, an increased role for tight end Hunter Henry, a more-seasoned Tyrell Williams, and the free agency acquisition of left tackle Russell Okung from the Seahawks. But, for Gordon's fantasy ceiling, we can once again look at the loss of Danny Woodhead as a huge boon for Gordon.
Last season, Danny Woodhead started out Week 1 with a huge game against Kansas City. He rushed 16 times for 89 yards and caught five passes for 31 yards and a touchdown, while Gordon rushed 14 times for 57 yards, two touchdowns and no targets. Of course those two touchdowns were huge, but when put into perspective, Woodhead's role looked like it will kill Gordon's role on average. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Woodhead's season ended early the next week against Jacksonville when he tore his ACL. That unfortunate event was fortunate to Gordon's fantasy owners though, as the receiving targets went way up for him after that.
If you take away his Week 13 game in which he was injured early, Gordon averaged five targets and four receptions per game after Woodhead went down, adding over 400 receiving yards and two touchdowns to his fantasy total in just 10 games. Those numbers are a huge help to Gordon's fantasy value and showed that he's not just going to be a goal-line back in this offense, plus they allowed the Chargers to let Woodhead go in free agency. That fact is also why you can feel much safer about Gordon's value this season, as there is nobody who will take a significant amount of receptions away from him out of the backfield.
Gordon's yards-per-carry are still troublesome, but he again showed flashes of strong running ability and more so than in his rookie campaign, especially in the receiving game, where he averaged 10.5 yards after the catch, which led all running backs with 40 or more receptions. Those reception numbers will increase this year with a stronger offensive line and better all-around offense, which should help smooth over any touchdown regression - if there is any. Gordon won't be a draft-day steal this year, but he should be a safe fantasy back, with three-down usage, which is tough to find in the NFL.