Heading into the 2018 season, the consensus top 4 RBs seem to be set. Most have David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott ranked 1 through 4 in some order. There are some dissenters who have someone else in there, but unless there is a major shift, that will be the top 4 going into the season. It is the 5th spot where things get interesting, there can be an argument made for a number of different players to be in that spot. I am going to make the argument for Melvin Gordon, my number 5 RB heading into the season.
Chargers Set to Impress in 2018
To start, I love the Chargers going into 2018, both on offense and defense. This provides two benefits for Gordon, the first is having Philip Rivers leading a passing attack that includes Keenan Allen. This means that defenses will not be able to stack the box to stop Gordon without consequences. The offense will allow for more scoring opportunities and in each of the last 2 seasons Gordon has scored 12 times. The Chargers offense will give him the opportunity to repeat this.
The Chargers also have a very good defense; in 2017 they were the 3rd best scoring defense. The only teams that gave up fewer points in 2017 were Minnesota and Jacksonville. This will put the Chargers into a lot of positive game scrip situations, which means betting on the volume for Gordon is very safe. The team will not need to abandon the run and Gordon will have opportunities at the end of games to kill the clock. Gordon has proven to produce for fantasy owners when he receives the volume. In 2017, he finished as the RB5 in PPR and in 2016 he finished as the RB7 in only 13 games.
One of the best things about Gordon is he is the primary runner and is involved in the passing game as well. Each season in the NFL, his work in the passing game has increased. Last season he averaged just over 5 targets per game. He topped 400 yards receiving in each of the past 2 seasons. When those numbers are combined with his rushing volume, 1,400 total yards feels like the floor for Gordon if he plays 16 games. He is a workhorse for the Chargers who project to be a very good offense in the upcoming season. In the 29 games Gordon played in over 2016 and 2017, he averaged 18.5 carries a game. Even if the volume in either facet of the offense is slightly reduced, it looks like Gordon will average around 22 carries plus targets, which is the volume you want in your RB1. For reference, in his breakout season Kareem Hunt averaged 20.9 carries plus targets. The only players who are likely going to have more opportunity than Gordon are the top 4 guys.
Competition for Volume
Another thing I like to see when drafting a RB for fantasy is limited competition for touches. Coming into 2018 the other RBs for the Chargers to be aware of are Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson, neither of which should scare the Gordon owner. It seems like people perceive Ekeler as a pass catching/3rd down type of RB, but Gordon out targeted him 83 to 35 in 2017. There were 10 games where Ekeler received 2 or fewer targets. This shows that Gordon is the primary pass catcher in the Chargers offense while Ekeler served mostly to give Gordon a breather in 2017.
There is some buzz around Jackson currently, but a guy that was drafted in the 7th round is not going to be a serious threat to Gordon’s workload. Realistically he is competing with Ekeler for the back-up role and to be the guy to give Gordon a rest. Similar to Ekeler, Jackson is a smaller RB, both are around 200 lbs., neither of them can replace the more powerful Gordon when it comes to running between the tackles. When Rivers turns to hand the ball off, the majority of the time it will be to Gordon. In 2017, he accounted for 74.5% of the RB carries the Chargers. The options behind Gordon on the depth chart are not intimidating at all.
What About His Inefficiency?
The biggest knock people will bring up against Melvin Gordon is that he is inefficient as a runner. He has never averaged over 4 yards per carry in a season. I understand why this concerns people, but every RB you can rank in the number 5 spot has an issue that stands out:
Alvin Kamara – Unsustainable per touch efficiency in 2017. Will he receive the necessary volume to overcome the regression and can he physically hold up if he gets the volume?
Saquon Barkley – Rookie who will be playing behind a below average offensive line. There is a reason the Giants were drafting 2nd overall, so Barkley has a lot to prove.
Kareem Hunt – Andy Reid’s amazing RB disappearing act combined with the return of Spencer Ware to eat into his volume. Also need to see if Patrick Mahomes is actually good.
Dalvin Cook – Small sample size in the NFL combined with a history of injuries dating back to college.
Leonard Fournette – No serious injuries but he has dealt with a number of smaller leg injuries which is never good to see. He also plays on a more conservative offense and only averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his rookie season.
When you look at the weakness for each RB in this range, Gordon’s biggest issue is offset is by volume which makes him the obvious choice to me. As long as he is on the field, the volume for Gordon is safe. He will see a large majority of the carries for the Chargers, will be the short yardage/goal line back and is involved in the passing game. If you are not in position to draft one of those top 4 guys I feel like Melvin Gordon is the guy to target in the 1st round if you want to go RB. He is going to have a big fantasy season in 2018.