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NFL AM: Melvin Gordon Looks To Bounce Back in 2016 After Microfracture Surgery

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After being one of the most highly touted college prospects entering the NFL last season, Melvin Gordon went on to have one of the most disappointing seasons of any rookie in the league in 2015.

Now as he looks to bounce back with a better sophomore season, it has been revealed that after his unfortunate freshman campaign, things had to get worse before they can perhaps get better for the former Wisconsin Badgers running back. Gordon told reporters this week that he had a surgical procedure on his knee after the season, and the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Monday that procedure was the oft-dreaded microfracture surgery.

Gordon missed the last two games of the 2015 season with a knee injury suffered in late December that landed him on IR and short-circuited his rookie season. He finished the season with 13 starts and 14 games played, over which he carried 184 times for 641 yards, an average of just 3.5 yards per carry. He also hauled in 33 passes for 192 yards, bringing him closer to the 1,000-yard plateau from scrimmage, but he was held without a touchdown all season, through the air and on the ground, and also fumbled five times. The Chargers finished the season 4-12 and everyone in San Diego is ready to put that year behind them, Gordon included.

“It’s something easy to forget,” Gordon said. “There’s nothing to remember about that. We had a bad season as a team. There’s just nothing to remember, really. We don’t want to go through that again. Obviously, we’re going to remember the losses and things like that — you remember what not to do. But we’re going to be all right

Still, although there wasn’t much the rookie running back could do to buoy a bad Chargers team in 2015. What he gave them was significantly less than San Diego expected from the man they made the No. 15 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Gordon was one of just two running backs taken in the first 35 picks and the other, the Rams’ Todd Gurley (No. 10 overall) starred after returning from a knee injury of his own. Gordon’s performance, after he was dubbed a can’t miss prospect coming out of college, shows the perils of using a high pick on a running back.

The surgery further clouds what can be expected of Gordon going forward. The procedure, which is used to repair torn cartilage by creating small fractures in the bone underneath, initiating a process that forces the body to create new cartilage, has had its hits and misses. One of its most recent recipients, 2014 No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney has continued to have problems in the wake of the procedure, while others like Reggie Bush and NBA legend Jason Kidd were able to move on and have productive careers post surgery.

One of the benefits of having microfracture surgery as opposed to a knee repair is the recovery timetable and Gordon, while not yet back to 100 percent now four months removed from the surgery, expects to be back at full speed for the Chargers by training camp.

“I’m getting better. I’m getting better. I’m not where I want to be, but I think I’m ahead of schedule. I’m sprinting pretty well. I’m cutting,” he said. “No question, I’ll be ready for training camp. I’m not even worried about that.”

Still there is plenty of cause for concern in San Diego. Gordon endured an incredibly heavy workload during his senior season at Wisconsin, in which he carried the ball a whopping 343 times for the Badgers. It’s not hard to draw a correlation from that campaign, in which Wisconsin ran the young running back into the ground, and his disappointing rookie season in the NFL. Rookie running backs are touted for their fresh legs, but Gordon’s were far from it in 2015.

Perhaps a lighter workload in his rookie season, coupled with the knee repair will help him bounce back in 2016 and be the player they thought they were drafting a year ago. But the onus isn’t all on Gordon. To help him get there, the Chargers will also have to be better up front, where they ranked near the bottom of the league as a run-blocking unit last season. The 2014 Heisman Trophy runner-up, still has the talent to be a top tier back and at 23 years old, there should still be a significant amount of tread on the tires despite what Wisconsin put him through in 2014. But San Diego has to hope he and the offense can put it all together in 2016 or it could be another long season and he could be on his way to being the next cautionary first round RB.

CHARLES MAKING PROGRESS IN RETURN

Melvin Gordon isn’t the only AFC West RB looking to make a triumphant return from knee surgery this summer and fall. One of the league’s best, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, is on a similar recovery road.

Charles tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 of the 2015 season, costing him most of his eighth NFL season. Now as he prepares to come back from ACL surgery at age 29, the second ACL recovery of his short career, Charles is acknowledging that his time remaining in the game is short, but that’s even further motivation for him to pour all he has into this latest comeback.

“One more shot,” Charles recently told Chris O’Connell of SI.com’s The Cauldron. “When I leave I want to be known as Jamaal Charles, phenomenal football player, inspiring to kids and adults. I’m going to take advantage of this one more shot.”

Charles suffered a torn ACL in his left knee early in the 2011 season and came back to run for over 1500 yards in 2012, so there’s little doubt that he’ll be in position to bounce back again this coming season. His recovery timetable is on track and reports indicate the Chiefs should have the four-time Pro Bowler ready to return coming opening day.

And although Charles is a veteran of eight NFL seasons, that number is a bit misleading. The two lost seasons to knee injuries bring that number down closer to six full seasons and his fairly light workload both in college and his rookie NFL season mean that the two-time All-Pro should still have a significant amount left in the tank.

The question going into 2016 will be how Kansas City chooses to deploy him. While the Chargers have little choice but to lean on Melvin Gordon, the Chiefs have some solid options out of their backfield. The tandem of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware were highly productive last season and helped a team, which was 1-4 after the week Charles went down, rally to win 11 straight games at one point, including a playoff victory over Houston, before bowing out of the postseason in the divisional round.

Charles still has the skillset to be considered among the best running backs in the league, and there was nothing pre-injury to indicate any signs of slowing down. His recovery from an ACL surgery previous should also lend little doubt to the fact that he will come back strong. But it might behoove Kansas City to ease him into action in an attempt to keep their star fresh for what they hope is an even deeper playoff push in 2016-17.

But how to utilize their three-headed running back monster is a good problem to have for a Chiefs team that is still looking to establish a true identity while they attempt to rise up the AFC West and steal the crown from the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos. And while Charles’ future is a bit of a mystery, Kansas City should be more than thrilled to have their star back on the field where he belongs for at least this coming season.

STILL AVAILABLE

With the draft now in the rearview, teams have a much better sense of where they stand as it relates to their depth chart at each position, which means the second stage of free agency should get rolling any day now. As that happens, there are few positions with more intriguing available options than running back.

Among those available is former Texans star Arian Foster. The four-time Pro Bowler turns 30 in August, but was a bit of a late bloomer and is just one season removed from a 1,200-yard, 4.8 yard per carry campaign in 2014. The achilles injury Foster suffered in October 2015 certainly scared some teams away during the early portion of the offseason, but there is essentially no risk in taking a flier on Foster now, at a low-low price, possibly incentive-laden deal. When last he spoke publicly, back in November, Foster expressed optimism about his NFL future.

“Yeah I’ll play again,” he told The Associated Press. “I’m not the first one to come back from an Achilles tendon (injury).”

Among the teams that might be interested are the New England Patriots, who always seem to be in the market for a veteran running back with low-risk and high-upside. The Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins could also have interest in adding Foster for depth purposes as each team watched their lead running back sign elsewhere this spring and will each likely hand the reins over to a second year back with few options waiting in the wings behind them.

But to get the opportunity at another season in the NFL, Foster will likely have to prove he can still play. That means visits to teams as they start OTAs and minicamps in the coming weeks could be on the horizon for the former All-Pro.

He won’t be the only one searching for work over the next few weeks either. The available crop of running backs also includes former Lions RB Joique Bell, Reggie Bush, Fred Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw among many others. All will be hoping to land the slightest opportunity to prove they still have something left in the tank, and the next few months will be the time to do it.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys