Melvin Gordon's NFL fits include Cardinals, Ravens, Cowboys


The devaluation of the running back position in recent NFL drafts -- no RB has gone in the first round since 2012 -- doesn't diminish the importance of having a dynamic talent in the backfield when it comes to competing with the elite teams in the league. It is not a coincidence that five of the top eight rushers in the NFL participated in last season's playoffs (and it would have been six, had Le'Veon Bell been healthy for the Pittsburgh Steelers' wild-card matchup). Not to mention the fact that LeSean McCoy, the NFL's third-leading rusher, led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 10-win season despite playing with a backup quarterback for half of the season.

Now, I know the analytics crowd will take umbrage with that notion, citing correlation over causation, but the vast majority of NFL coaches will suggest that the presence of an elite runner in the backfield changes the way the game is played on Sunday.

As the 2015 NFL season approaches, Bucky Brooks is poring over film to determine the best of the best in the NFL. Click on each group below for full analysis and rankings.

Whether he's helping to control the clock with a "three yards and a cloud of dust" approach or dictating the terms to the opponent by forcing defensive coordinators to employ eight-man fronts, a dominant running back adds balance to an offense, relieving the quarterback of the pressure to single-handedly carry the team. Most importantly, a reliable bell-cow back allows a team to establish the toughness and physicality that is needed to win at the highest level.

Given all of that, the spotlight certainly will shine bright on Melvin Gordon leading up to this year's draft. The Heisman Trophy finalist is the most explosive runner available, exhibiting exceptional speed, quickness and acceleration in his four-year career at Wisconsin. Last fall, Gordon rushed for an eye-popping 29 touchdowns and 2,587 yards -- the second-highest total in FBS history, falling just short of Barry Sanders' 2,628-yard mark set in 1988 -- showing scouts that he was capable of carrying the load as a workhorse runner in a hard-nosed zone running scheme.

Of course, skeptics will suggest Gordon is another system running back who benefited from playing in a fundamentally sound scheme -- powered by a massive offensive line -- that routinely produces pros. But I believe the film reveals an electric runner with all of the blue-chip qualities evaluators covet in a franchise running back. In addition to top-end speed, Gordon possesses underrated vision and short-area quickness, allowing him to thrive on the perimeter or between the tackles. He displays extraordinary patience and poise as a runner, yet is an explosive playmaker capable of going from zero to 60 in a hurry when he spots a crease. Gordon's big-play ability is breathtaking; he's a threat to score from anywhere on the field, making him a rare find at the position.

As a receiver, Gordon hasn't posted impressive numbers, but he is a capable pass catcher with the hands and ball skills to be a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. He will excel on screens, swings and option routes designed to get him the ball quickly in space, leading to big plays when he eludes and outruns defenders on the perimeter.

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Looking at Gordon's game and how it translates to the NFL, I believe he will develop into a Jamaal Charles-like playmaker. He is a rare inside/outside runner with enviable wheels, yet he also displays the toughness and grit needed to handle a heavy workload. Given his potential to contribute as a three-down back, I believe Gordon is one of the few blue-chip talents in this draft class. Several teams will view him as a franchise RB capable of transforming an offense from good to great in the coming years.

Here are five potential fits for Gordon:

Minnesota Vikings (No. 11 overall pick)

Depending on what happens with Adrian Peterson, the Vikings could be in the market for a workhorse back. Gordon would bring a home-run threat to the backfield that would force opponents to put extra defenders near the line of scrimmage, creating one-on-one opportunities for the Vikings' receivers on the outside. Given Teddy Bridgewater's efficiency executing a variety of play-action and traditional dropback passes, Minnesota's offense would certainly have explosive potential in 2015 with Gordon in place at tailback.

San Diego Chargers (No. 17)

The Ryan Mathews experiment largely has been a disappointment from the Chargers' standpoint, with injuries and inconsistent production overshadowing the former first-round pick's brief flashes of brilliance. Thus, the team could turn to the draft to find a franchise running back capable of alleviating some of the burden on Philip Rivers to carry the offensive load. The Chargers could be attracted to Gordon's well-rounded game; he has the potential to perfectly complement the aerial playmakers (Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates) in San Diego's offense.

Arizona Cardinals (No. 24)

A spate of injuries at the quarterback position exposed the Cardinals' lack of offensive balance. The team finished 31st in rushing yards during the regular season, and the absence of a franchise-caliber running back allowed opponents to suffocate the passing game. Gordon would immediately add a spark to the ground attack, giving Bruce Arians a dynamic runner to lean on in hard-hitting contests against the rugged defenses that reside in the NFC West. The running game is key to winning pivotal contests down the stretch; Arizona needs an explosive talent like Gordon to compete with the elite teams in the NFC.

Baltimore Ravens (No. 26)

The unexpected emergence of Justin Forsett as a feature back in 2014 will not stop the Ravens from exploring the position in the draft. Forsett, of course, is primed to become a free agent, and the team is unlikely to lavish a long-term deal on a 29-year-old RB. With that in mind, the Ravens could target Gordon as the franchise back of the future. He would be an ideal fit in coordinator Marc Trestman's offensive scheme as a perimeter runner with speed, quickness and burst. Additionally, Gordon is a dangerous playmaker in space with the potential to develop into a home-run hitter in the passing game. The Ravens nearly beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots in the Divisional Round behind a journeyman RB. The addition of an electric back could help the team hoist the Lombardi Trophy again.

Dallas Cowboys (No. 27)

If the Cowboys fail to re-sign DeMarco Murray, the team could be in the market for a runner to fill a huge void in the lineup. Although it's tough to count on a rookie to anchor an offensive attack, Gordon certainly possesses the physical tools to be a difference-maker early in his career. He displays the speed and quickness to turn the corner on outside runs while also exhibiting the vision and pitter-pat to burst through cracks between the tackles on zone-based runs. Behind a massive offensive line adept at moving defenders off the ball, the ultra-explosive Gordon could be a fine replacement for the NFL's reigning rushing king.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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