Melvin Gordon: RB2 for your fantasy team? I told myself, “Self, you’re not doing Robust RB in every draft this year.” And the thing is, I feel totally fine with a bunch of committee backs wandering through my RB2/Flex spots in 2021. And so far, I have zero shares of Melvin Gordon. Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the kids who are wrong. But I understand where we all might be just a bit reticent to roster a Denver Broncos running back, I really do. And that, my friends, is where we find draft values.
The Broncos were a mess last year — as I noted in my Noah Fant 2021 Fantasy Outlook — but that mess was largely caused by massive injuries rather than a lack of talent. Now with all the Broncos offensive players having their ADP depressed, you can find inefficiencies in the draft room that you can take advantage of for your Underdog best ball teams that will likely net you positive expected value.
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We’re a few weeks older and wiser than when I last profiled the Broncos offense. So far in the pre-season, we’ve been seeing an unexpected quarterback battle between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. The Broncos have put up 30 points in each of their pre-season games so far, with Lock and Bridgewater each totaling 2 touchdowns and about 200 yards passing. Melvin Gordon seems to be penciled in as the lead back in the Broncos system, with rookie Javonte Williams taking some pre-season reps while Gordon rests. The Broncos appear to be a rush-first offense going into 2021, meaning their lead backs could earn a small bonus to their expected value over the course of 2021.
There are no fence-sitters when it comes to Melvin Gordon in 2021 fantasy football: either you’re targeting him, or you’re staying away entirely. Right now, the scale of “stay away” seems to be the predominant mode of thinking among common drafters, which has been pushing Gordon down the ADP ladder. This belief likely stems from Gordon’s seemingly low yards per rush attempt over the course of his career. Is he a 3.9 yards per attempt guy — as we saw in 2016, 2017, and 2019 — or is he a 4.8-5.1 yards guy, as seen in 2018 and 2020? Many fantasy managers think it’s the former.
Melvin Gordon finished as the PPR RB14 in 2020, according to the Team Rise or Fall Study Hub. Despite missing time for a DUI arrest, Gordon finished 10th overall among running backs in snaps, 9th overall in carries, and if you group all the ties in touchdowns, he was in the 6th highest group for RB TDs.
Even after Gordon’s top 15 fantasy running back finish in 2020 — supported by evidence in both efficiency metrics and usage metrics — he’s being drafted at pick 120 on average in Underdog drafts. In other words, he’s a flex at most if not a bench player for most Underdog teams. What gives?
Of course, there’s 2021 second-round pick Javonte Williams, who will likely take over the lead running back role for the Broncos at some point this year if not certainly next year. Gordon is 28 and in the last year of his contract, while Williams will be handed the reins to the offense at some point. So, you’ll need to consider how robust or how fragile you are willing to make your team if you draft Melvin Gordon. Are you planning to take more RBs — thus nullifying the eventual transition to Williams — or are you willing to forge a team that rides that razor-thin line that assumes Denver never gives Williams the lead-back role in 2021? The latter is a very possible — if not likely — outcome. Very few second-round running backs claim the lead role in their first year in the league. But most people agree that Gordon’s utility to fantasy teams will likely come earlier in the season.
In other words: it’s not that Melvin Gordon is a bad player; it’s that his role on your fantasy team is much more difficult to place than other running backs.
The Team Rise or Fall Underdog Projections envisions Melvin Gordon as RB23 on the year on pace for a bit over 750 yards on the year. Of course, those yards are likely to be front-loaded. Are you building a team that’s heavy on rookie RBs that might not get going until later in the year? Melvin Gordon might be a consideration for that kind of build because he’ll get a heavier workload in the first few weeks. Are you pursuing a Hero RB build that might want several cheap committee backs? Gordon is usually going after round 10; you could build your entire starting lineup first and then target backs like Melvin Gordon, Kenyan Drake, and Devin Singletary. I’m not angry at an RB stable of Derrick Henry, Melvin Gordon, and Kenyan Drake.
Melvin Gordon is a fine running back for your fantasy squad; it’s just that he doesn’t make sense for all of your fantasy squads. He fits in nicely for those types of squads that apply forethought to their build. Because Gordon is a reliable touchdown maker, he’s useful as an RB2/Flex option for Underdog best ball drafts. However, he will eventually relinquish some touches to Javonte Williams, and that will diminish his fantasy value come the playoffs. Make sure you account for a strong second-half RB presence on your roster if you’re including Melvin Gordon on your team.
Original Image Source: Denver Broncos
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