Just a few months ago, fantasy owners couldn’t have been much lower on San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. As a rookie, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and only 5.95 fantasy points per week.
That’s especially bad considering Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, who was picked five spots ahead of Gordon in the 2015 NFL draft, scored more than twice as many fantasy points, averaging 14.6 per game.
But two weeks into the 2016 season, the scripts have flipped for the two first-round backs from a year ago. Gordon is off to one of the best fantasy starts for any running back, and he has a golden opportunity to add to it in Week 3.
It’s just two games, but Gordon has showcased his tremendous burst and power that made him the No. 15 pick. Last Sunday against Jacksonville, the 23-year-old posted the first 100-yard rushing game of his career and earned 120 total yards from scrimmage.
In Week 1, he had just 57 rushing yards on 14 carries, but he scored a career-best 17.7 fantasy points because of two touchdowns. Gordon has three scores this season, which is quite incredible considering he had none last year.
Based on those numbers, it would be pretty easy to argue the Chargers young running back turned a corner this summer, but in reality, he really isn’t much different. The biggest change positively helping Gordon’s fantasy value is the San Diego offense.
In his rookie season, the Chargers were forced to use 11 different offensive lineman and 25 separate line combinations.
Think about that for a second. There are just 16 games in a season, so on average, San Diego shifted their linemen around every week and during a game every other week.
No wonder Gordon never found his mojo and saw his yards per carry average drop 4.0 yards per attempt from his junior year at Wisconsin to his rookie season in the NFL.Fortunately, the Chargers have their offensive line back intact. Left tackle King Dunlap, who missed nine games in 2015, has returned from his ankle and concussion problems. Because of his injury, guard D.J. Fluker moved to the outside last season, but he’s back at his more comfortable right guard spot, and Orlando Franklin secures the left guard position.
San Diego also signed free agent Matt Slauson, who ranked as a top-20 guard last year according to Pro Football Focus and moved him to center. The final result is a much-improved offensive line that has helped the Chargers record the fifth-most rushing yards through two weeks.
Another factor helping Gordon’s fantasy value is the fact San Diego selected his college fullback, Derek Watt, the younger brother of J.J. Watt, in this past spring’s draft. Behind Watt’s stellar blocking at Wisconsin, Gordon rushed for 4,817 yards in three seasons.
Against the Chiefs in Week 1, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt deployed Watt often on running downs, especially close to the goal line. Watt led the way for Gordon on both touchdowns in the first game.
Although Watt was used less often last Sunday, it’s obvious Gordon is more comfortable behind a stronger offensive line, and the Chargers are doing everything within their power to put their young running back in a position to succeed.
That should result in an absolutely huge day this week. San Diego is matched up against the Indianapolis Colts, who have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing running backs early this season. Two games is a small sample size, but the Colts run defense was about as bad last year too. Indianapolis ranked 25th in both rushing yards and touchdowns allowed in 2015.
Consider Gordon a RB-1 in all formats for Week 3, and although tougher matchups will certainly come after the Colts, his value is certainly trending in the right direction.