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Should you believe in Melvin Gordon as a Bronco?


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What You Need to Know:

-- Gordon clearly outplayed Phillip Lindsay as a receiver over the past two seasons.
-- He hasn’t rated very efficient as a runner through most of his career.
-- HC Vic Fangio says Gordon can “do all of the jobs” his position requires.
-- The 2019 Broncos ranked 10th most run-heavy but then hired a new OC from a pass-leaning offense.


History

You can look at Gordon’s traditional stat profile in a variety of places and find a guy who has averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in 4 of his 5 NFL seasons. But we know that stat can be flawed.

Let’s look to Football Outsiders’ 2 main efficiency stats: DVOA and DYAR, which basically measure a player’s success at getting what’s needed in a given situation and adjust for the defenses faced. (That’s the “D” in each abbreviation.)

Here’s how Gordon has fared:

2019: 33rd in DVOA, 32nd in DYAR -- among 45 qualifiers
2018: 3rd, 5th -- 47
2017: 33rd, 31st -- 47
2016: 29th, 29th -- 42
2015: 43rd, 43rd -- 44

So Gordon’s come in well below the middle of the group in 4 of his 5 seasons. The other year, 2018, just happened to set a career high for fantasy points per game.

Gordon’s strong 2018 also happened to coincide with the best ratings for the Chargers’ offensive line in any of his 5 years. Football Outsiders uses adjusted line yards to attempt to parse out the portion of each run play attributable to the blocking. Here’s how the Chargers ranked in that category through Gordon’s 5 seasons there:

2019 -- 13th
2018 -- 5th
2017 -- 26th
2016 -- 23rd
2015 -- 31st

Not much help over his 1st 3 seasons.

The receiving side has proved a bit different. Gordon has rated better as a receiver than a runner in 3 of his 5 seasons. The only 2 in which he didn’t were his rookie campaign, when Football Outsiders rated him at the bottom of the position in each aspect; and 2018, when Gordon rated so well as a runner and still above the middle as a pass-catcher.

Gordon has also beaten Phillip Lindsay in receiving ratings in each of the 2 seasons since Lindsay entered the league.


New Situation

The Broncos’ offensive line has rated better than the Chargers’ in adjusted line yards 4 of the past 5 years. The only time that differed was 2018, when both ranked among the top 6:

2019 -- 11th
2018 -- 6th
2017 -- 9th
2016 -- 18th
2015 -- 17th

Denver watched C Connor McGovern leave for the Jets in free agency. They could look to 3rd-round pick Lloyd Cushenberry (from LSU) to take over that spot right away. Former Lions G Graham Glasgow is coming off his best Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade in 4 pro seasons and got $26 million guaranteed on a 4-year deal in free agency. So Denver clearly views him as an upgrade to some interior spot. (Glasgow also has center experience.)

The group should be better than what Gordon ran behind with the Chargers. And Gordon might benefit from getting a full training camp after staying away from his team until Week 5 last season.

Most importantly, his new coach is a believer. After the signing, HC Vic Fangio called Gordon a “versatile” back who can “do all of the jobs” needed. Perhaps Fangio disagrees with PFF’s assessment that Gordon’s pass blocking has regressed every season in the pros.

Annual grades: 74.0 > 68.8 > 55.8 > 48.1 > 47.0

Or perhaps he just knows that even a lesser Gordon is an upgrade in that area over Lindsay, who was atrocious as a blocker last year.


New Boss

Pat Shurmur’s arrival can’t be bad for RB fantasy points in Denver. Over his 11 seasons as an OC or HC in the NFL, Shurmur has had 8 backs rank among the top 15 PPR scorers at the position. These were his teams’ top backs the other 3 years:

-- Peyton Hillis: RB30 in points per game for the 2011 Browns
-- Jerick McKinnon: RB30 for the 2016 Vikings (when Shurmur spent just half the year as OC)
-- Latavius Murray: RB25 for the 2017 Vikings

Both of those Vikings backfields featured split workloads, and Hillis turned back into a pumpkin after his magical 2010.

On the other end, Shurmur has presided over top-12 fantasy seasons for Steven Jackson (twice), Trent Richardson, LeSean McCoy (twice) and Saquon Barkley (twice).

Gordon says he believes that Shurmur’s style of rushing will fit his skills better than what the Chargers asked him to do.

"They run a lot of inside zones, and that's what I did a lot at Wisconsin," Gordon said. "It's going to really help me get back in the feel of what I do best. I'm an inside-zone runner."

The big question, of course, will be how much work Gordon cedes to Lindsay -- and, to a lesser degree, Royce Freeman. But we won’t start getting that picture until late summer and probably won’t really know until the season starts.

Fangio donned his coachspeak mic in late March to say, “I don’t see it as a problem getting enough work for both of them.”

Last year’s Broncos ranked 10th most run-heavy in the league under 1st-time OC Rich Scangarello, despite going just 7-9. They went 49.1% run in victories (compared with 42.4% overall).

Shurmur’s Giants went 64% and 64.2% pass the past 2 seasons, albeit at records of 5-11 and 4-12. Even with those 2 years included, his 11 NFL offenses have averaged a 59-41 pass-run split. Just 2 of his teams have checked in below 57.9% in pass rate (2013 Eagles and 2017 Vikings).

Unless the Broncos get over .500 this season, we should probably bet on a little more passing than last year. Denver ranked 14th in rushing attempts; 27th in passing attempts.


Draft Sharks Bottom Line:

Here’s what we know: Gordon has lagged in rushing efficiency for most of his career, but he’s about to run behind a better run-blocking line than he saw for at least 4 of his 5 Chargers seasons. He’ll share some work with Phillip Lindsay, who has enjoyed a terrific first 2 years in the NFL. But Gordon immediately beats Lindsay as a receiver and pass-blocker. His contract says Denver coaches believe Gordon is the team’s top new back all-around. And new OC Pat Shurmur has been friendly to RB fantasy output in his career. As long as we don’t get summer reports of Gordon slowing down -- and he’s just 27 -- he should be a solid bet just outside of RB1 territory.