Melvin Gordon Returns - 2019 Fantasy Football Impact
Idk what Melvin Gordon was trying to accomplish, but it didn't work. He asked for $14M a year, the Chargers offered him $10M a year, and like most guys do with their GFs, they compromised and he lost $1.2M off of his $5.6M base salary for 2019 by missing the Chargers first four games of the season.
He returned to this team on Thursday, yesterday to a 1-2, soon to be 2-2 team after they play the Dolphins on Sunday. Obviously, Gordon doesn't follow fantasy football twitter because he didn't know that running backs didn't matter. In Gordon's absence, through three weeks, Austin Ekeler has paced AFC running backs in yards from scrimmage with 368, while Justin Jackson leads the NFL with 7.9 yards per carry (among RBs w > than 10 carries).
Gordon was great last year, but Ekeler and Jackson have been great this year. It's similar to the Chiefs backfield or the Rams backfield if someone seizes control, they're going to rack up fantasy points. But, that's good news for Gordon's rest of season outlook.
So here's what we have - 12 games remaining for the Chargers. Interesting, because we have a 12-game sample size from last year on Gordon - that's how many games he played in. In those 12, he nearly went for 1,400 YFS and scored 14 total touchdowns while catching 50 passes on 66 targets... monster per/game numbers. He was the RB3 in fantasy football behind only Gurley and Saquon on a per-game basis.
Here's the interesting part - in those 12 games last year - Melvin Gordon held a 64% touch share. This year, Ekeler has a 69.5% touch share. Those guys ahead of him, Barkley had an 80% touch share, Gurley, in the games before the knee flaring up, the same thing. So, basically, Ekeler literally slid right into the Melvin Gordon role while Gordon was gone.
So what do I expect to happen? Well, I think it's going to look a lot like it did last year. Melvin Gordon back to his 65% touch share, Ekeler with the other 30%, Justin Jackson becomes irrelevant in fantasy football. It's possible that Gordon gets eased back in maybe, his first week in the lineup, here's their schedule over the next 7 weeks before their bye in Week 12:
It's a tough slate to run against to start against Den, PIT, TEN, CHI but then things get easier.
However, the most valuable part of this backfield was always the receiving work.
It's what makes the RB1 in this offense, game script or matchup proof. This year, they've targeted RBs on 26% of their throws, 7th highest rate in the NFL. Last year, it was 27%, 3rd highest rate in the NFL behind only NO and NE. The year before that 23%, still top-10 - it's a huge part of their game plan and will continue to be.
So, I think Gordon comes back in and operates as their workhorse, but that doesn't mean 80% of their touches, but that also was never who Gordon was. Despite being the RB3 last year, Gordon didn't have a single game with 20 carries. Their backfield is like the Saints where the touches are divided, but they're also more valuable because they know how to use their RBs, get them involved in the passing game and get them in space. So, ROS Gordon is absolutely an RB1 in my eyes.
What does this mean for Ekeler. Well, I think he takes back over the role he's had. It's not like he became a new player this year. "Oh, he's so good, they can't take him off the field" - but yeah, he's always been this good. We talked about him a lot this summer, didn't make the Chargers play him over Gordon at any point over the last two years and that's not going to be the case going forward. He'll fall back into that 30-35% touch share in this backfield, which is also valuable. In the bounce-back and post-hype sleepers video we made early this summer, before we knew anything about Gordon's holdout, Ekeler was one of my top-3 guys listed in there because of how good he'd been in his first two years in the league. This is directly from that blog post: "Ekeler's quietly been one of the NFL's most efficient backs since he entered the league in 2017, both as a runner and pass-catcher. Averaged 5.5 ypc in 2017, he more than doubled his carry total in 2018 and kept his YPC above 5 (5.2). He averaged 10.3 YPR in 2017, which was 6th amongst all RBs with at least 25 catches on the year. That's a big number for an RB, usually, that's non-repeatable, but Ekeler did it again last year, catching 12 more passes in 2018 then he did in 2017 while increasing the YPR to 10.4, 3rd in the NFL - the guy is just a playmaker. And a big playmaker too - he was #1 among NFL running backs last year in breakaway run rate, the highest percentage (9.4%) of runs that went for 15+ yards. Almost 10% of his runs went for 15+ yards. He was 4th in the NFL last year in yards per touch."
A full 16 games in 2018 had Ekeler finish with right under 1,100 total yards and 7 touchdowns - those are borderline top-24 numbers. So he's absolutely in the conversation for flex plays for ROS - but I'm not one of those people telling you to buy Ekeler. Borderline flex plays don't push the needle and win you fantasy leagues. I'd actually heir on the side of calling him a sell-high as opposed to buy-low, if you can trade him to a guy who thinks this is going to be a 50/50 time split when Gordon returns, I'd ship him off. I love Ekeler the player, but the role he's going to have is going to make him extremely boom/bust.