The San Diego Chargers Aren’t Using Melvin Gordon Properly


By most accounts, San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has had a tough season.  

Great things were expected out of the Heisman finalist turned first-round pick, and through 11 games Gordon has just 510 yards rushing, a 3.6 yards per carry average and is yet to find the end zone.  

“It’s been up and down. Down, down, down, down, down,” Gordon told Football Insiders in an exclusive interview.  

Rookies normally have an expected learning curve, but that’s not exactly the case with Gordon.  He was a record-setting running back in college and the transition from college to the NFL is supposed to be seamless for running backs over any other position.  

With the Chargers in desperate need of a great back after former first-round pick Ryan Mathews flamed out, a lot of the hopes of the Southern California fan base were placed on the former Wisconsin Badger.  Many unfairly labeled him as the next “L.T,” (LaDainian Tomlinson) but it’s obviously difficult to expect anyone, much less a rookie, to play at the level of a future Hall of Famer.  

Mathews is trying to keep his head up despite having one of the worst yards per carry averages in the NFL and playing on a bad team.  

“I’m just going to go out there and work hard and practice hard until things start to go my way,” he said.  

Everyone knows that football is a team sport, and if certain players aren’t doing their job, it makes it that much tougher for other guys and the team as a whole to succeed.  A running back needs a good offensive line to be successful, as well as a commitment to running the ball as an offensive philosophy.  

Right now Gordon has neither.

In fact, the Chargers coaching staff is making it more difficult for their first-round pick to succeed as he’s part of a three-man committee at the position.

“We rotate three backs right now and it’s tough when you get taken out,” Gordon explained. “I’m not used to that. I’m used to rotating two, I’m not used to rotating three. It’s tough because you feel like you’re starting to heat up and then they take you out.  But they understand and they have their plan on what they want to do.”

Clearly the Chargers plan isn’t working, at least not on the ground and not in the win column.  Gordon’s 3.6 yards per carry is well under what everyone expected and well under the league average.  He’s not alone.  In fact he’s averaging the most yards per carry of anyone in the San Diego backfield.

“One of the hardest things I can say this season for me has been getting into a rhythm,” he said. “With guys mixing in and out so much, it’s hard getting into a rhythm really.”  

Gordon has had to almost revert back to his time at college, where he had to pay his dues before getting a bigger role. 

“It was like this for me at Wisconsin for the first three years and then the fourth year I was the guy.  Now I’m used to being the guy, just staying in there and getting the lion’s share of the carries.  It’s just something you have to get used to,” Gordon explained.

Making it unintentionally tougher on Gordon has been the success of St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley, who some have already labeled the best running back in the NFL.  Gurley leads all rookies with 794 yards rushing and six touchdowns, while averaging nearly five yards per carry.  He’s doing all of this while coming off a torn ACL that he suffered last year at the University of Georgia.  

“He’s been ballin’,” Gordon said about fellow first-round pick Todd Gurley.  “I don’t just watch Todd, I watch everybody.  Those guys definitely push me to get better, so I watch all of those guys.”

We asked Gordon who he thought is the best running back in the game.  

“Production-wise, you’ve got to give it to AP (Adrian Peterson) and Doug Martin has been playing pretty good.  Those are two of the top guys right now.  AP’s leading everyone so you have to go with him as of now,” Gordon said.

Has Gordon’s lack of success affected his confidence?  Certainly not in his own abilities.  We asked him where he stacks up among the elite.  

“Oh yeah, I got the ability to be right up there with any of them.  We just need to get on a roll and it will be right there for me.”

It’s painfully obvious that Gordon is the Chargers most talented running back, hence the team selecting him in the first round.  He’s only being used on 54 percent of the team’s carries, as opposed to stars like Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson getting the ball on nearly 72 percent of his team’s rushes, Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin receiving the ball on 62.1 percent and St. Louis rookie Todd Gurley toting the rock 68.1 percent of the time since becoming a starter.  

Gordon isn’t having the rookie year that many, including himself thought he would have.  Perhaps things would be different if he was more involved in the game plan?  

With head coach Mike McCoy expected to lead a team to compete for a playoff spot instead of the first-overall pick this year, it’s extremely likely that Gordon’s might have an entirely new coaching staff next season.  

Maybe they’ll realize that the most talented guy in the backfield should receive the ball?  


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.