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Will Melvin Gordon Run for 1500 Yards as a Rookie?
image via flickr/phil roeder
image via flickr/phil roeder

Shawn Siegele asked if Melvin Gordon is the best running back prospect since Barry Sanders. CBS Sports projects him to be a first round pick. Just how good can he be?

When this tweet came across my timeline, I literally couldn’t even. Okay, I’m not really sure what that phrase means, I just want the kids to think I’m on fleek. Okay, I’m not sure what that means either. What I really thought was this: that seems highly unlikely.

The 1500 yard season

To prove my own self right, I did what any self-respecting RotoVizian would do, and headed over to Pro Football Reference and ran some season screeners. First, I wanted to see just how often a 1500 yard rushing season happens. Here’s all of them for the past ten years.

Player Year Age Draft G Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G
Adrian Peterson 2008 23 1-7 16 363 1760 4.85 10 110
Adrian Peterson 2012 27 1-7 16 348 2097 6.03 12 131.1
Alfred Morris 2012 24 6-173 16 335 1613 4.81 13 100.8
Arian Foster 2010 24 na 16 327 1616 4.94 16 101
Chris Johnson 2009 24 1-24 16 358 2006 5.6 14 125.4
Clinton Portis 2005 24 2-51 16 352 1516 4.31 11 94.8
DeAngelo Williams 2008 25 1-27 16 273 1515 5.55 18 94.7
DeMarco Murray 2014 26 3-71 16 392 1845 4.71 13 115.3
Edgerrin James 2005 27 1-4 15 360 1506 4.18 13 100.4
Frank Gore 2006 23 3-65 16 312 1695 5.43 8 105.9
Jamaal Charles 2012 26 3-73 16 285 1509 5.29 5 94.3
LaDainian Tomlinson 2006 27 1-5 16 348 1815 5.22 28 113.4
Larry Johnson 2005 26 1-27 16 336 1750 5.21 20 109.4
Larry Johnson 2006 27 1-27 16 416 1789 4.3 17 111.8
LeSean McCoy 2013 25 2-53 16 314 1607 5.12 9 100.4
Marshawn Lynch 2012 26 1-12 16 315 1590 5.05 11 99.4
Maurice Jones-Drew 2011 26 2-60 16 343 1606 4.68 8 100.4
Michael Turner 2008 26 5-154 16 376 1699 4.52 17 106.2
Shaun Alexander 2005 28 1-19 16 370 1880 5.08 27 117.5
Steven Jackson 2006 23 1-24 16 346 1528 4.42 13 95.5
Tiki Barber 2005 30 2-36 16 357 1860 5.21 9 116.3

Yep. It’s only happened 21 times in 10 years. Only 19 players have accomplished the feat. What else sticks out?1 More than half of those seasons (11 of 21) were by first round draft picks. All seasons involved the player being healthy for all 16 games. All but two involved the RB getting 300+ carries. In the past five seasons, only 14 players have topped 300 carries. In other words, it’s kind of a “perfect storm” event.

Now that I’ve established the rarity of the 1500 yard running back season, let’s look at Gordon himself.

Mighty Melvin

1500 Comps

Observant readers may have noticed that two rookies made the list of 1500 yard seasons: Alfred Morris and Clinton Portis. Here’s how Gordon compares to them.

mg

Portis didn’t run before the draft, but Gordon bests him in nearly every regard. Compared to Morris, Gordon is faster, more explosive, more agile, and faced a much more difficult schedule. So far so good.

Historical Comps

How does Gordon look compared to other prospects in general?

mg2

Not bad. Not as fabulous as hoped for maybe, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that RB comps will likely be affected more by opportunity and injury than will wide receiver comps. Kevin Smith was a good player who struggled with injury. Montee Ball was highly regarded, despite struggling so far as a pro. Matt Forte and pre-elevator Ray Rice are obviously very favorable comps.

Current Comps

How does Gordon compare to this year’s RB class? See for yourself.

mg3

There are some other impressive backs here, but it’s easy to make a case for Gordon leading the parade.

Conclusion

Will Gordon rush for 1500 yards? Probably not. But ultimately, that’s not the important thing. Does he have the potential to be a great RB? The answer there appears to be a resounding yes.

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