• TrueNorth FantasyFootball

Rebound Radar: Melvin Gordon

Rebound radar is an off-season column dedicated to players that @itsharristime expects to rebound for the 2020 season. These are players that are buy-low candidates in dynasty and will cost you little draft capital in upcoming season long drafts. In Best Ball, these are late round fliers that could pay big dividends in 2020. The methodology for selecting these players is based off of historical production, situation, and, athletic testing and ability. Enjoy!

Taking advantage of market inefficiencies is integral to success in fantasy football. Recently I was asked the question on Twitter “are there players you will not trade?”. The answer to that is NO. Every player can be had for the right price. This allows your roster to be fluid, and that fluidity allows you to build a championship calibre roster season after season.

One market inefficiency that I’ve been targeting since the start of last season, and the focus of this Rebound Radar, is 2019 running back holdout Melvin Gordon. His “buy low” window has sunk even lower since signing with the Denver Broncos, and I’ll unpack that a bit more for you in the coming paragraphs.

Gordon started off the 2019 season in a contract dispute with the Chargers. Whether this was bad advice from his agent, or, he was completely unaware of the Le’Veon Bell season long holdout with the Steelers in 2018, Gordon ended up missing the first 4 games of the season. This allowed the Austin Ekeler breakout to happen, and, ensured that Gordon’s value would continue to be driven down.

Upon his return in Week 5, Gordon was a productive high end RB2 with the odd RB1 week for the remainder of the season. Ekeler and Gordon provided a good “thunder and lightning” routine: Ekeler nearly posted a 1000 yard receiving season (993 yds), providing the lightning in the passing game, and Gordon was the “thunder” in the Red Zone: 11 goal line carries, 37 Red Zone Touches, and 9 touchdowns during his shortened season. Gordon converted on 23.70% of his Red Zone opportunities, which easily slots him in the top 10 of qualified RB’s in 2019.

Gordon wasn’t all thunder though, he was also a steady contributor in the passing game. This had long been Gordon’s trademark before the dawn of Ekeler. On a per game basis, Gordon had 3.5 receptions, 24 receiving yards and a 76.4% catch rate. Per game, Gordon was targeted 4.6 times a game, out targeting new teammate Phillip Lindsay (3) as well as dynamic backs such as Dalvin Cook and Zeke Elliott. When looking at per game efficiency in Red Zone usage and receiving metrics, Gordon ranks among the top backs in 2019.

What does this all mean now that Gordon is in Denver? Didn’t they already have a crowded backfield with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman?

This is where you read between the lines and look at the situation. It is in between these lines that you can unearth fantasy gold. New to the Denver situation is former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. Say what you want about his tenure with the Giants, but Shurmur knows how to run the ball.

I think it's important for a runner to be able to catch. There are three elements to playing running back. Number one, when you hand it to them, they have to have good vision, balance, body control, collision balance and they have to be able to run with the ball and score. You certainly need to be able to pass protect to protect the quarterback. If you can't catch the ball out of the backfield or you can't have an impact in some way ... then it's hard to be a full runner."

Why am I recommending Gordon when it looks like he is entering into an even more crowded backfield than what he left in LA? One look at Denver’s Red Zone efficiency in 2019 will give you that answer. Lindsay only had .5 goal line carries a game to Freeman’s .2 carries per game. This is highly unusual as both ranked in the top 25 in Red Zone touches. Is this to say that former Denver OC Rich Scangarello didn’t trust these RB’s to pound the rock home? The paltry rushing TD totals for Denver in 2019 (11 TDs) and ranking 28th in Red Zone conversion efficiency (47.62%) opens the door for Gordon to have an important role in the revamped Denver offense under Shurmur. Keep in mind that Gordon nearly matched the entire Broncos rushing TD production in 2019 while playing 4 fewer games.

Gordon can be a sneaky RB2 for your team, and, as history has shown, can be a Top 5 fantasy back as he was in 2018 where he posted 22.6 FPPG. The biggest concern for Gordon isn’t the timeshare with Lindsay, it will be his injury history. With his 5 years in the league, Gordon has only played in a full season once, in 2017. 2017 was also the only season he posted a 1000+ yard rushing season.

Could the split backfield actually be a blessing for the 26 year old back? Being the “thunder” to Lindsay’s “lightning” could be exactly what Gordon needs to continue to be an RB1 for fantasy purposes. Especially in standard or .5 PPR, Gordon will be a darling. Given Shurmur’s history and comments, and Gordon’s efficiency in the passing game, Gordon may not just be a goal line back. Gordon can be counted on to contribute with his fair share of receiving yards, making him a potential value pick later in drafts.

Don’t let the holdout shortened season in 2019 and the muddled backfield in Denver fool you. Gordon is on the cusp of being an RB1 at an RB2 price. Keep an eye on him in the late 2nd and early 3rd rounds of your redraft leagues, and I’d be sending offers for the former Wisconsin back before he turns into a Red Zone dynamo for the Broncos. His price will only go up after the start of the season when he starts pounding the rock into the EndZone.

- Will Harris