Melvin Gordon deserves to go higher than you think

Trivia time! Can you name the only three running backs to finish in the top six at their position in fantasy points per game (FPPG) in each of the past two seasons in PPR scoring?

You probably guessed Le’Veon Bell right away and you’d be correct. Because I narrowed it down to “per-game,” many probably guessed Ezekiel Elliott next, which is also correct. Who’s the third player?

Todd Gurley? Jeff Fisher ensured that wouldn’t be the case. LeSean McCoy? Nope. Devonta Freeman? Jordan Howard? No and no. Everyone else in the conversation was either injured or a rookie last season.

The third player alongside Bell and Elliott is Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Gordon missed a trio of games in 2016 but finished with 19.3 FPPG, good for fifth most among RBs. He played all 16 games last season and finished sixth at the position with 18.0 FPPG. Plus, Gordon’s played in more games (29) over those two seasons than Bell (27) and Elliott (25).

That entire intro is an elongated way to say that Gordon is a safer pick than many believe at first glance.

Gordon’s production as a receiver has increased every season. After catching 33 passes as a rookie in 2015, he’s caught 41 and 58 balls, respectively, over the last two campaigns. His targets have increased from 37 to 57 to 83 in that timespan. (Note: 2017 was his first season playing all 16 games, but even on a per-game basis the increase exists). It’s safe to say he is firmly entrenched as a vital part of Los Angeles’ passing game.

The knock on Gordon is his lack of explosive plays. Sure he had an 87-yard touchdown run against the New England Patriots in Week 8 last season, but his next longest run was 29 yards. He had only six carries that went for 20 or more yards. Despite that, he finished with 1,105 yards on the ground and 1,581 yards in total. He scored a dozen times (eight on the ground) for the second consecutive season.

While his highlights on the RedZone channel may not be as scintillating as some of the other top RBs, style points mean nothing in fantasy. You hated calculating it in math class but you love it in fantasy: volume. It’s what makes players like Gordon and Leonard Fournette valuable, even when running at a 3.9 yards per carry clip.

There is little reason to be concerned about Gordon’s overall volume dropping. Sure, Austin Ekeler will get some touches, but how many do you realistically expect him to get? He got 74 total touches last season and will probably be in the 100-110 range this season. Will an extra 30 touches really eat into Gordon production? Doubt it.

Ekeler is a strong handcuff and could be an RB2 if Gordon gets hurt, but he shouldn’t scare you away from drafting Gordon in the middle of the first round. Rookie Justin Jackson, another player who some feared might take catches away from Gordon, has been nursing a hamstring injury and is far from a lock to even make the roster.

I’m comfortable taking Gordon as high as No. 7 overall (sixth among RBs). He’s going outside of the top 10 fairly often in recent Scout Fantasy drafts. Gordon is in a logjam that includes Odell Beckham Jr., Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt. I favor the Chargers RB over all three of those players. Gordon vs. DeAndre Hopkins is a toss-up.

Gordon does have limited upside for a first-round pick — it’s hard to envision any scenario where he finishes as the No. 1 or No. 2 player in fantasy — but is a fairly safe pick nevertheless. Only an injury can knock the 25-year-old out of RB1 territory.