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What if Melvin Gordon Misses Games? Solving the Chargers Backfield Using the RotoViz Game Splits App

Melvin Gordon has been a fantasy football godsend for the past several seasons. Having reinforced his ceiling with some of the best receiving production among NFL RBs since 2017, assuming health and availability he’s a no-brainer elite investment in fantasy drafts for 2019.

But Gordon recently shared that he won’t be showing up for training camp without a new deal. Threatening to miss training camp is hardly the same as missing real games, like Le’Veon Bell did in 2018. But Gordon seems pretty serious. After all, when Bell announced his own hold out last season, Gordon was recorded on video saying he’d do the same thing if he was in Bell’s position.

The Chargers have ample cap room to sign Gordon to a front-loaded extension, which would keep him happy and provide Philip Rivers with his trusty sidekick as the team tries to keep its title window propped open. But what happens if the sides can’t reach an agreement and Gordon misses real time? How would the backfield touches be divided?

The Melvin Gordon Ripple Effect

It’s been an eventful week for Justin Jackson. FFPC best ball drafters have started selecting him as early as the 13th round (one drafter even pulled the trigger in the top 125!).

Source: RotoViz FFPC Dashboard

In fact, the second-year pro out of Northwestern has been the sharpest ADP riser our of all players at FFPC in July (you can fully explore ADP trends yourself here).

Is Jackson the correct play if Gordon holds out past training camp and misses actual games? I’m not so sure…

What Happened in 2018 when Gordon Missed Time?

If Gordon misses time, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the Chargers will handle the division of duties in 2019 the same way they did last season. Our game splits app is the perfect tool for this research. Drafters are going crazy for Jackson, but is their interest justified?

Jackson saw a four-carry uptick per game without Gordon, but his targets remained essentially unchanged (they actually decreased slightly).  Jackson hit the end zone on the ground twice in these games which propped up his fantasy scoring, perhaps in a way that could be misleading if raw fantasy scoring is being used in other research. Also hidden in these numbers is the reality that Jackson got a full game to himself in Week 14 against Kansas City and racked up 16 carries with Austin Ekeler missing time.

Now, a 162-PPR 16-game pace is certainly noteworthy. However, as you will note from the splits app, it would be bolstered by 48 points from touchdowns alone, despite only pacing for 160 touches. An investment in Jackson is also one that really only pays off if Gordon misses considerable time, because as soon as Gordon comes back (or if he doesn’t even miss any games) Jackson adds zero value to your fantasy team as the Chargers RB3.

What About Ekeler?

Ekeler’s role increased more than Jackson’s did with Gordon out of the lineup, but it didn’t result in a significant increase in PPR scoring because he only scored one touchdown in the three games he played without the lead back. Note that his rushing attempts and his receiving targets each more than doubled on a per-game basis with Gordon on the bench. The eye-popping number is Ekeler’s 277-touch 16-game pace (213 carries, 64 receptions) in a Gordon-less world. Alvin Kamara only had 275 touches in 2018. Only six running backs touched the ball more than 277 times in last season. I’m not sure this has been fully appreciated by drafters, as Ekeler’s ADP has remained much more stable than Jackson’s in the face of the Gordon developments.

Source: FFPC Dashboard

Takeaways

Based on what we saw in 2018, the Chargers will probably deploy Ekeler as the 1A and Jackson as the 1B in a true committee backfield if Gordon misses time. This means Jackson’s ADP is rising too sharply, and Ekeler’s isn’t rising sharply enough, especially considering that the latter is the one that still has value even if Gordon plays. I’m not targeting Jackson in drafts, but Ekeler has become a much more serious target for me. I’m comfortable drafting him as early as Round 7 in FFPC leagues, where other committee backs such as Latavius Murray and Miles Sanders are currently coming off the board.

Want to read more about Ekeler before deciding how to play this situation? Shawn Siegele also covered him in his recent piece, Fantasy’s 8 Most Explosive Breather Backs and How to Exploit Their Crazy ADPs.

Image Credit: Tom Walko/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Austin Ekeler.

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