BALTIMORE — There is one question about running backs that pops up every year throughout the NFL Draft season. That question is whether or not there will be a running back taken in the first round. It’s something that hasn’t happened since 2012 when Trent Richardson (3rd to Cleveland Browns), Doug Martin (31st to Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and David Wilson (32nd to New York Giants) where all selected in the first round. Given the lack of success that the aforementioned players have had due to a variety of reasons, one may come to the conclusion that a running back simply isn’t worth using a first round pick.
Many say that the running back position is devalued in today’s game. That statement holds a degree of truth but it also is false. The reason why we can say that is because NFL teams have placed a lower monetary value on running backs but these same teams are well aware of the importance of having a running game in those late months leading up to the Super Bowl.
The 2015 NFL Draft boasts two running backs that are definitely worthy of being first round draft picks. In fact, it would be very surprising if Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon aren’t selected in the first round. That’s because teams want players that can score at any given moment from anywhere on the field. In short, they want home run hitters.
Melvin Gordon is known for his ability to break off long runs. The Baltimore Ravens could be looking to use the 26th pick on the dynamic playmaker from Wisconsin. He would be a nice complimentary player to Justin Forsett who led all NFL running backs in yards per carry (5.4) and explosive runs (17). Like Forsett, Gordon is a big time playmaker that can make a single cut and get to the second level of the defense in a hurry. This could be why Gordon is the list of player visits for the Ravens.
Gordon has the acceleration ability similar to that of a small, high performance sports car. He also has a vicious jump cut that he uses to pop into different gaps and poke through the smallest crease in the defense. Gordon is able to explode out of the jump cuts and hit the turbo button to eat up chunks of yards on his carries. He hits full stride and top speed in flash. Gordon will also finish some of is runs by delivering a nice blow.
The video below shows how Melvin Gordon is able to use his change of direction ability to find a gap and hit it for a long run. Gordon is going against LSU in this game. Now, on this play, LSU stacked eight defenders the box. Getting past the second level of the defense against eight in the box is like finding a small treasure in the ocean for running backs. The reason being, once you do so, the likelihood of getting a long gain is very high. The hard part is breaking through the eight guys that are in the box but if a seam opens up, see you later!
Gordon finds the treasure on this play thanks to two jump cuts. The first jump cut is to get him out of the stuffed running lane that was supposed to open. The second jump cut which comes right off of the first puts him in a designed cut back lane. That’s a part of the zone system. Watch how quickly Gordon is able to hit top speed after he breaks through. One of the safeties had an angle on Gordon but the window closed quickly and Gordon exploded past him on his way to the big gain.
2015 NFL Draft Spotlight: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
One thing that Gordon will need to be able to do at the next level is to become a more natural catcher of the football. It is something that he has worked to improve upon over the last year. Despite that, he is absolutely capable of being a three down back. Gordon is a much better blocker than he is given credit for.
He has also drawn criticism for getting stuffed on runs. That happened on 19% of his carries last year. Getting stuffed on runs was somewhat of a tradeoff for the long runs that he had. Gordon has a tendency to flatten out his runs as he tries to find the crease that will allow him to hit a home run. Sometimes a running back has to just take the three or four yard gain instead. It’s both a gift and a curse. It’s the same thing that causes All Pro running back LeSean McCoy to get stuffed often. At the same time, it’s the same reason that McCoy and Gordon create so many explosive plays.
Draft projection: 1st round
Why should the Ravens consider this prospect?
Gordon is a player that can reach the end zone any time that he touches the ball. His one cut ability is perfect for the zone blocking system that new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman plans to have remain a staple in the Ravens offense. Initially, Gordon would share carries with Forsett and second year running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. Coach Harbaugh had no problem giving the ball to whichever back had the hot hand at the start of last season. That being said, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that Gordon could earn extra carries as he begins to show his game breaking ability.
NFL Comparison: Arian Foster
Many have placed the Jamal Charles comparison on Gordon. Yes, they wear the same number and both have dreadlocks flowing from their helmets but the similarities are rare after that. Gordon is a breakaway running back, but he doesn’t have the long speed that Jamal Charles has. This is something that was first pointed out to me by Brandon Howard of Sports Talk Florida. The two do share the same instant speed however.
It’s interesting that there have been some who are connecting Gordon to the Houston Texans, Arian Foster’s current team. Foster is a bit more of a powerful runner and a more polished receiver out of the backfield. They have the same body type and running style. Like Foster, Gordon tends to be a little bit upright when he runs. That’s understandable because both of these backs are 6-1.
The real similarity lies in their ability to thrive in a zone scheme. They both have the vision and anticipation to see lanes develop quickly. At times they can time their cuts perfectly in order to find the running lane before it develops. The timing on the zone scheme is like synchronized dancing and it leads to some big time gains on the ground. Foster was third in the NFL in runs (9) of 20 or more yards and tied for first in the NFL with three runs of 30 or more yards. Like Foster, Gordon had a bunch of explosive plays while at Wisconsin.