Melvin Gordon's play raised red flags in the preseason, but San Diego's first-round running back has shown growth over the first two games of the year.
His three rushes of 20-plus yards against Cincy made him the first Chargers back to do so in a game since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2007. No back in the league ranks higher in the "breakaway percentage" metric laid out by Pro Football Focus, measuring which runners earn the highest percentage of their yardage on gallops of 15 or more yards. Gordon's three such runs ranks second to only Chicago's Matt Forte, despite 13 other backs having carried the ball more than the Chargers rookie.
"He's special. There's no doubt about that," said fifth-year left tackle Chris Hairston, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. "The more carries we get him, the better situations we can stay in so we can get him the ball and get him rolling, it'll do nothing but help us. That guy is going to be special from here to the end of the season to as far along as he wants to do this."
There was concern after Gordon averaged just 2.2 yards per tote in the preseason, but Hairston said the team isn't surprised to see the No. 15 overall pick improve weekly based on how hard he prepares.
"He has a very different type of work ethic. Some rookies you see come in and study and train," Hairston said. "... To do everything the way he does, he may not know this but guys are watching him. There's never a time he's not trying to get better at something. ... Attention to detail. You can see he has that."
Ranking behind just Dion Lewis, Giovani Bernard, Carlos Hyde and Latavius Murray in PFF's "elusiveness" grading, Gordon has also drawn praise from the greatest runner around. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson raved over Gordon's "amazing" 20-yard burst against the Bengals (below), saying of Sunday's showdown between the teams: "I'm looking forward to meeting him this week."
There's still room for growth. Along with Gordon's big plays against Cincy, eight of his 16 attempts went for one yard, zero yards or negative real estate.