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?
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) April 2, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
How does Gordon look compared to other prospects in general?
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.
How does Gordon compare to this year’s RB class? See for yourself.
There are some other impressive backs here, but it’s easy to make a case for Gordon leading the parade.
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.
- Don’t answer that. (back)