Earlier this summer Justin Winn provided an excellent breakdown of his Projection Machine outlook for the San Diego Chargers fantasy positions. Danny Woodhead is projected for 77 receptions compared to only 29 for Melvin Gordon. Those numbers feel right, but do they properly represent the range of outcomes?
Let’s use the RotoViz Screener to get a sense of what we can expect in terms of RB receptions based on previous receptions.
Woodhead is projected for 52 receptions, Gordon for 31.
Based on the Chargers offense from the last several seasons, this leaves quite a few RB receptions up for grabs. If those receptions go to Woodhead as they did in 2013 and 2015, that would again make him an easy pick. Of course, even that assumption may be somewhat faulty. Brian Malone reports that the Chargers will likely be better and pursue a more run-heavy game plan. That’s bad news for Woodhead, who led NFL RBs with 34 receptions while his team was trailing in the second half.
Woodhead is 31 years old and just finished a season with a career-high 80 receptions. Seventy-seven receptions puts him at his realistic ceiling. If Gordon is injured, Woodhead is going to be hard-pressed to benefit as a receiver, and he has minimal rushing value.
On the other hand, if Woodhead is injured – as he was in 2014 – Gordon would likely see his receiving numbers spike.
Melvin Gordon Is a Three-Down Back
Gordon was awful as a rookie and is now returning from microfracture surgery. Fortunately for Gordon fans, this has created an incredible opportunity. Specifically as a receiver, we’re probably looking at this wrong. Gordon has plus agility for his size with an 11.11 Agility Score. He also ran an 11.0 in the 60-yard shuttle, the fastest time from the last decade. Many RBs skip the drill, but his time is better than noted agility stars like Chris Rainey, Roy Helu, and Ameer Abdullah. We’ve long talked about the connection between agility and receptions, and so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Gordon caught 30 passes as a rookie.
Gordon caught 30 passes as a rookie when his teammate caught 80.
As quoted in the San Diego Tribune, new OC Ken Whisenhunt was very impressed by his performance as a receiver:
I think one of the things that really impressed me the most, which you don’t really get a sense for of him playing college football, is how good of a receiver he is coming out of the backfield. He made some really good plays in that area. When you have a quarterback like Philip (Rivers) who is so good about at being able to get the ball to the running backs — we’ve all seen the production that Danny (Woodhead) has had over the years, and some of the other backs — you think if you can get him rolling in the run game, then some of the other elements that he can add will really be good for the offense.
When you consider that Gordon could eat into Woodhead’s receptions, but Woodhead isn’t a threat to cut into Gordon’s rushing attempts, you start to see that the prices here are set up very favorably for Gordon.
I recently asked RotoViz contributor and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Budoff, about the microfracture procedure. He noted that there are two important questions whose answers are currently unknown to the public:
1) Was it in the weight-bearing area of the knee? 2) How big was the lesion?
Depending on the answers to these questions the microfracture surgery could mean he’ll never be able to handle a large number of reps again, plus his career longevity is now questionable. Or it could mean not very much. The fact that he’s participating in team drills means that he’s 1) weight bearing, 2) allowed to run, cut, jump and pivot on it; all of those activities can lead to shearing of cartilage surfaces. I couldn’t imagine that his surgeon would allow this if the microfracture area was large and/or in a critical weight-bearing area. So I think that probably means it’s not a huge deal for him. Especially because San Diego didn’t draft any more RBs ‘just in case’. Assuming they knew about it, which I would assume they did.
This is how Chargers GM Tom Telesco described it to ESPN.
“Every knee injury is unique to the player. But I think with microfracture surgery there are two key elements to it — the size of the treatment area and the location of it — and both with Melvin were favorable.”
Any time a player has an off-season injury, you should factor that into your thinking, but we’ve easily reached the point where Gordon’s situation is asymmetrical in our favor. Based on Dr. Budoff’s explanation and how it fits with Telesco’s description, there’s a good chance the “microfracture” label is creating a unique buying opportunity.
Gordon’s ADP has gone from appetizing to mouthwatering to funnel cake a la mode
Currently ahead of Gordon:
- Thomas Rawls, a must-sell former UDFA who is just now getting over a serious ankle injury, who might have less value than C.J. Prosise, and who must also battle one of my favorite prospects in Alex Collins.
- Matt Jones, a player who has tremendous opportunity, but who may be one of the worst starting RBs in NFL history. We probably spend too much time focusing on RB efficiency, but that argument should theoretically also apply to Gordon’s rookie season.
- Jeremy Langford, another rookie who struggled badly on the field but may be the poster child for false certainty. Of course, he must hold off Jordan Howard.
- Jay Ajayi, a runner with a checkered injury history who could1 face competition from Arian Foster.
RB is a position heavily predicated upon athleticism and opportunity, but it’s unlikely that skill plays no role. Gordon entered the NFL as one of the most productive college RBs ever. Do you know how many RBs in the last 15 years managed a college season within even 500 rushing yards and 10 TDs of Gordon’s 2014? Kevin Smith, Derrick Henry, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Matt Forte. That’s it. That’s the whole list. Change that to yards from scrimmage, and you can add Ajayi.
Right now you’re being provided one of the biggest discounts you’ll ever see on any player. Is it a guarantee that Gordon will help you win your league in 2016? Of course not. There are no guarantees, especially at the RB position. But you should always buy RBs when they’re down, especially a superstar talent who just proved his biggest pre-draft liability2 is probably a strength.