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.
To get a sense of how the games against the nine common opponents shook out, here’s a quick overview:
|RB||Team Record||Avg Team Pts Scored||Avg Opp Pts Scored||Margin|
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.
In the nine games in question, here is how Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon performed:
|RB||Age||Rushes||Rush Yds||Rush Avg||Rush TD||MS Rush Yards|
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?
If we think about these nine games as matchups between Coleman and Gordon, here is how they fared:
|RB||Rush Yard Wins||Rush TD Wins||MS Rush Yard Wins|
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 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:
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.
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.
|RB||Foe||Rush Yards||Rush TD||MS Rush Yards|
|Tevin Coleman||Penn State 13||92||1||61.3%|
|Melvin Gordon||Penn State 13||91||0||75.8%|
|Tevin Coleman||Minnesota 13||108||1||47.6%|
|Melvin Gordon||Minnesota 13||69||0||35.0%|
|Tevin Coleman||Illinois 13||215||2||58.0%|
|Melvin Gordon||Illinois 13||142||3||49.1%|
|Tevin Coleman||BGSU 14||190||3||80.9%|
|Melvin Gordon||BGSU 14||253||5||39.3%|
|Tevin Coleman||Maryland 14||122||1||59.2%|
|Melvin Gordon||Maryland 14||122||3||39.2%|
|Tevin Coleman||Iowa 14||219||3||69.3%|
|Melvin Gordon||Iowa 14||200||2||75.2%|
|Tevin Coleman||Rutgers 14||307||1||104.4%|
|Melvin Gordon||Rutgers 14||128||2||43.0%|
|Tevin Coleman||Ohio State 14||228||3||81.1%|
|Melvin Gordon||Ohio State 14||76||0||107%|
|Tevin Coleman||Purdue 14||130||0||54.4%|
|Melvin Gordon||Purdue 14||205||1||77.7%|
Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a cohost of Rotoviz Radio – A Fantasy Football Podcast. Continue this conversation with him on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.