TSO Report: San Diego Chargers RB - Melvin Gordon

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Melvin Gordon

Height: 6'1"

Weight:  215 LBS

College: Wisconsin

Drafted: 1st Round, 15th Overall by San Diego in 2015

Experience: 2nd Season

2015 Season Stats: 184 Att, 641 Yards, 3.5 YPC, 0 TD, 33 Rec, 192 Yards, 0 TD

Talent:

Unfortunately Melvin Gordon's first career NFL carry was a microcosm of his rookie season.

Gordon struggled to flash the traits and ability that made him a 1st round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and it's now uncertain if that time will ever come. In February it was reported that Gordon has the meniscus in his left knee repaired, which was expected. Gordon missed the final two games of his rookie season due to the injury. However, a couple weeks ago it was revealed that Gordon also had microfracture surgery on that same knee. Just like there is no such thing as a mild concussion, there is no such thing as a minor microfracture surgery. Microfracture surgery is when holes are poked (micro fractures, get it) in the bone to stimulate cartilage growth. It is never done as a preemptive measure to clean something up and has a 8-9 month recovery that requires extensive downtime. It has a 75-80% success rate. Travis Kelce and Vontaze Burfict are the biggest names to recently come back from it. Now seeing as Gordon had the procedure in January and the Chargers GM came out and said the size and location of the surgery were favorable then maybe there is hope Gordon is ready come week 1. I'm hesitant to believe that there is nothing to worry about and would hope the Chargers would proceed with caution with a 23-year old that they invested so much in.

As if the knee wasn't worrisome enough Gordon's fumbling issues followed him to the NFL as well. In 2015, MGIII coughed up the rock 6 times in all, losing 4. This ultimately led to him being benched twice during his rookie season.

On a more positive note, Gordon did impress as a receiver out of the backfield. Most of these receptions were simple down dumps or swing passes - in a way substituting for the anemic run game. Gordon's ability in the passing game, both as a receiver and pass blocker, were his biggest critiques coming out of Wisconsin. ESPN's, Todd McShay, graded Gordon out as "Below Average". Gordon quickly dispelled that notion and it's a great reminder to the scouting community that just because a player wasn't asked to do something doesn't mean they can't. Although he only had 22 receptions in college I thought there were pretty good examples of Gordon adjusting to balls and using proper hand technique when called upon.

Gordon never got rolling in the run game, for plenty of reasons that we'll touch on, but he did show glimpses of his electrifying burst to the second level and unique ability to put moves on defenders without really losing speed. Could Gordon have been more decisive on some runs, sure. That will hopefully come with time in the NFL but for playing behind a bunch of turnstiles masquerading as offensive lineman, he did an admirable job of getting what he could.

Situation:

2015 was definitely a year to forget for the Chargers. It started off with Antonio Gates missing the first 4 weeks due to suspension. Then the offensive line didn't even last a full regular season game together before San Diego was forced to play musical chairs along the line. Ladarius Green, Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson also missed major chucks of the year due to injury.

Pro Football Focus rated the San Diego Offensive Line as the worst unit in the NFL. They graded out as the worst pass blocking unit and came in 2nd to last in run blocking. Plenty of blame can be put on the massive amount of injuries that occurred along the line. The Chargers used 24 different offensive line combinations in 2015. Going across the line the Chargers had 5 different players line up at Left Tackle, 6 at Left Guard, 3 at Center, 5 at Right Guard and 4 at Right Tackle. Orlando Franklin, King Dunlap and DJ Fluker aren't perennial all-pros but when healthy the line has the potential to be in the top half of the league. The only direction they can go is up.

Ken Whisenhunt returns to San Diego after a historically bad tenure as the Head Coach of the Tennessee Titans. He'll take over the Offensive Coordinator duties again and will hopefully rekindle the magic that earned him the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2013. Whisenhunt took the Chargers from 31st in the league in yards per game to 5th in his one year calling the shots. In 2013, the Chargers finished 4th in passing yards per game and 13th in rushing yards per game. 

All things considered, the Chargers definitely have the talent to make that same turnaround again. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have put together Hall of Fame worthy careers and are still going strong. Keenan Allen is one of the most underrated WR's in the NFL. Gordon and Woodhead perfectly complement one another and the Chargers even brought in more talent this offseason. The Chargers signed speedster WR Travis Benjamin in free agency. He'll bring a new element to the Chargers offense that it's lacked for a little bit. They also selected Arkansas TE Hunter Henry in the 2nd round of the draft. Henry is a skilled possession receiving TE who can fill the shoes of Ladarius Green and will wait in the wings until Gates calls it a career.

So what does this all mean for Gordon? Even with all the talent around him If he's healthy he'll have plenty of opportunity to produce. In 2013, Ryan Matthews had a career year and finished as RB 12. He racked up over 300+ touches for 1,400+ yards and 7 TDs. Meanwhile, Danny Woodhead finished as RB 19 (standard scoring). Woodhead racked up a little over 1,000 yards and 8 TD's in typical Woodhead fashion, making most of his impact as the little jitterbug receiver out of the back field.

Whisenhunt was critiqued for the pass heavy attacks the past two seasons in Tennessee but I'd hope he'd reel it back in and revert back to what worked in his previous tenure here. Previous to San Diego, the only other time Whisenhunt was an OC was in Pittsburgh from 2004-2006. During those years his team led the NFL in carries twice. The one year it didn't Willie Parker was still RB5.

Opportunity:

Gordon will have every opportunity to take on a lead back role again. The Chargers didn't bring anyone in this offseason to compete, which also means they feel good about Gordon being healthy for the regular season. Danny Woodhead should still hold down the 3rd down receiving back role. 3rd string RB Brandon Oliver has shown the skills to fill in either role if needed.

As a rookie Gordon played in 36.1% of snaps. Danny Woodhead on the other hand saw action on 49.9%. Now these numbers are a little misleading because Gordon missed two game and his fumbling issues led to an increased role for Woodhead in the red zone but I wanted to compare the snap counts with similar RBBC situations around the league.

Two situations that I found similar to San Diego's were Cleveland and Cincinnati's. Both these teams have a clear between the tackles back and a receiving specialist. Come to show their splits were pretty close to what we saw in San Diego and in a passing league that makes sense. In 2015, Duke Johnson was in 50.8% of snaps while Isaiah Crowell was in on 42.9%. In Cinncinnati, Giovani Bernard was in on 55.0% of snaps while Jeremy Hill was in on 43.3%.

Looking forward to 2016, you would assume that a healthy Gordon's playing time would increase more towards the norm with the real possibility to take on a larger role in the offense.

As a rookie Gordon still averaged 15.5 touches per game so when on the field the Chargers were committed to feed him the ball. 

Outlook:

Gordon appears to be in a better overall situation this coming year. The addition of Ken Whisenhunt and a healthy offensive line brings hope that better days are ahead for the Chargers but the knee injury is still a huge concern for me. I'll want to see him out on the field showing he's back to his former self, which still needs work, before I'm a believer again. So at this moment I would not draft Gordon at his current ADP RB26, 75th overall. Some players currently around that ADP that I would rather have are Giovani Bernard, Marvin Jones, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Duke Johnson to name a few.