Every season, we do our best to predict who the big sleepers and breakout candidates are going to be. Every season, we get a few of them wrong -- very wrong. But just because a certain player goes bust one year doesn't mean they'll be a bust forever. Welcome to "Bust-a-Move", where we're breaking down some of 2015's biggest fantasy football disappointments to determine if you can expect some stat sheet salvation in 2016.
It used to be easy enough to find quality fantasy running backs that there wasn't much need to think about giving serious consideration to rookies. Since that well dried up in recent years, we've been forced to dig a little deeper for fantasy-sustaining running back nourishment. Last year, that meant mining for the likes of Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Melvin Gordon. The first two worked out quite well for fantasy managers. The third one ... not so much.
The recurring note from Gordon's rookie season was how he failed to score a touchdown, but there were so many more things that went wrong with his initial NFL campaign. It all led to the young running back earning the name Meh-lvin Gordon in the Fantasy Stronghold. Of course, since this is Bust-a-Move, we're not immediately willing to accept that this is just going to be Gordon's reality going forward. After all, he did set the NCAA single-game rushing record ... even if he only held that record for a week. But that should be enough to convince us that he's not a total lost cause, right?
So it was off to the way-back machine to dive into some of Gordon's work from last season to see if he could be anything more than just "meh".
What went wrong
When you rush for just 641 yards with no touchdowns in 14 games, the answer to the question "what went wrong?" is ... everything.
Early in the season, Gordon looked hesitant approaching the line of scrimmage and seemed determined to try and bounce every run to the sideline. It was maddening to watch Gordon's dogged insistence on not challenging tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Yes, doing that on a regular basis isn't the best way to have a long NFL career but sometimes it's just plain unavoidable. It was also especially unavoidable for a running back playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The Chargers gained fewer than four yards on 61.3 percent of their carries last season -- only three teams were worse -- and in Gordon's defense, his 3.5 yards per carry average was better than Danny Woodhead's. So there's that.
The good news for Gordon is that as the year progressed, he seemed more willing to be physical with defenders. In fact, it was easy to see his overall development as it got deeper into the season and his role in the offense grew as a result. That was definitely a positive. The negative is that he never looked completely comfortable as a pass-catcher. With Woodhead on the roster, Gordon isn't going to catch a ton of balls (see Woodhead's 106 targets to just 37 for Gordon in 2016) but it would be nice to see his technique improve.
What must improve
It won't matter how much Gordon develops in the offseason if San Diego can't figure out its offensive line issues. For the past few seasons, that unit has been hit hard by injuries which strained the team's depth. It also led to Chargers running backs consistently finding defenders in the backfield. Speaking of injuries, Gordon is still recovering from microfracture surgery on his knee, which will be plenty cause for concern going forward. It's not a good omen for a player who didn't exactly display a lot of breakaway speed last season.
By the way, we all spent so much time lamenting Gordon's lack of production that we never got around to his fumbling issues. Gordon's six fumbles (four lost) were second among running backs last year. Only Adrian Peterson (seven) had more. The difference is that Peterson had 140 more total touches. That is definitely something Gordon will need to clean up if he is going to be more effective this year.
What we expect
It would be a major upset if Gordon went an entire second season without scoring a touchdown. So just by that metric alone, he should be better this season. I'd also expect Gordon to have a larger role in the offense which should help him build off the improvement we saw from him later in the year. That being said, it would be foolish to believe he's going to offer production on par with his draft classmates like Gurley and Johnson.
Verdict: Considering Gordon's draft price (Rounds 7-8 in most leagues) and his potential ceiling this year, he could be a solid value pick as a third running back. As long as the Chargers don't suffer devastating injuries like they did last season and can keep game scripts in their favor, Gordon should stay on the field and cut into Danny Woodhead's workload. Just don't expect Gordon to suddenly be the catalyst that leads you to a fantasy championship.