Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon vs. Common Foes


At this point I think it’s fair to say that most people believe Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon to be either the #1 or #2 running back in the 2015 NFL Draft; would you agree?

But has anyone considered that maybe, just maybe, Gordon isn’t even the #1 back from the Big Ten?

I know it’s a stretch, but is it possible that Indiana’s Tevin Coleman might be dramatically undervalued at this point and possibly on the same tier as his Badger counterpart?

In the wake of the NFL Combine, where Gordon was rock solid and Coleman was M.I.A. while recovering from a foot injury, the two players seem to be heading in opposite directions. As proof, consider that in a recent rookie mock draft, Gordon was the second runner taken (5th overall) while Tevin Coleman was the eighth runner selected (17th overall), going after Combine slayer David Johnson. Lucky for us, Gordon and Coleman faced nine common opponents during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, so, even without Combine numbers, we can get a sense of how they stack up. Maybe this is a futile exercise, but maybe something surprising will emerge.

The overview

To get a sense of how the games against the nine common opponents shook out, here’s a quick overview:

RBTeam RecordAvg Team Pts ScoredAvg Opp Pts ScoredMargin
Tevin Coleman3-632.736.8-4.1
Melvin Gordon7-235.221.413.8

Both running backs’ teams scored a similar amount of points, but Indiana’s defense was much worse, which resulted in a worse overall record. My biggest take away from this is that Coleman played with worse game script, which Rich Hribar covered in this work.

Thinking through this, playing from behind could both help and hurt Coleman. On one hand, he’s probably less likely to get carries, but when he does he’ll likely be facing defenses focused on the pass, not the run. Conversely, Melvin Gordon’s team playing with a lead would likely mean more carries for him against defenses who know the run is coming. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but it’s something to keep in mind.

The performances

In the nine games in question, here is how Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon performed:

RBAgeRushesRush YdsRush AvgRush TDMS Rush Yards
Tevin Coleman21.222.0179.98.61.769.5%
Melvin Gordon21.219.8142.97.81.852.3%

Born just three days apart in 1993, their ages are almost identical, as are their touchdowns, but just about everything else favors Coleman. He gained nearly one yard more per attempt, while shouldering 17 percent more of the rushing attack than Gordon did. In other words, Coleman was more of a workhorse and slightly more productive in that role. Not what you expected?

The matchups

If we think about these nine games as matchups between Coleman and Gordon, here is how they fared:

RBRush Yard WinsRush TD WinsMS Rush Yard Wins
Tevin Coleman6.545
Melvin Gordon2.554

Coleman rushed for more yards on six occasions compared to Gordon’s two. Amazingly, they had a rushing yards tie against Maryland in 2014, but never had a rushing TD tie, as Gordon pulled out the win in that category.

The measurables

The three workout numbers that I care most about for running backs are weight, 40-yard dash and three cone; think big, fast and agile. We know that Melvin Gordon was 215 pounds with a 4.52 dash and a 7.04 three cone. For Tevin Coleman to be comparably athletic at 206 pounds, he would need to hit these marks at his April 15 pro day:

4.46 dash
6.91 three cone

I’m a little worried that he might skip the agilities due to his foot recovery, but I think the speed is probably there, given his history of long-distance touchdown runs.

The conclusion

I know that saying Tevin Coleman is better than Melvin Gordon would open me up to all sorts of criticism, so I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’ll simply propose the possibility that Coleman is a comparable, but cheaper, talent. From what I have read “Melvin Gordon is a special running back talent with unique abilities”, and while I agree he is very good, I wonder where those talents show up on the field, if not in the form of production. As we can see here, Tevin Coleman was every bit as productive as Gordon, while facing identical competition and being of comparable size, so doesn’t it seem possible that Coleman might be a sort of “discount Melvin Gordon?”

Here he is leading an over-matched Hoosiers team against the national champion Buckeyes.

In case you are wondering, here is the complete game log for the two players. In a few places you’ll see a market share over 100 percent, which is possible because college QB sacks count as negative rushing yards.

RBFoeRush YardsRush TDMS Rush Yards
Tevin ColemanPenn State 1392161.3%
Melvin GordonPenn State 1391075.8%
Tevin ColemanMinnesota 13108147.6%
Melvin GordonMinnesota 1369035.0%
Tevin ColemanIllinois 13215258.0%
Melvin GordonIllinois 13142349.1%
Tevin ColemanBGSU 14190380.9%
Melvin GordonBGSU 14253539.3%
Tevin ColemanMaryland 14122159.2%
Melvin GordonMaryland 14122339.2%
Tevin ColemanIowa 14219369.3%
Melvin GordonIowa 14200275.2%
Tevin ColemanRutgers 143071104.4%
Melvin GordonRutgers 14128243.0%
Tevin ColemanOhio State 14228381.1%
Melvin GordonOhio State 14760107%
Tevin ColemanPurdue 14130054.4%
Melvin GordonPurdue 14205177.7%

Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast.  Continue this conversation with him on TwitterGoogle+ or Facebook.

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