Melvin Gordon: Fantasy Football Damage Control
Fantasy Football Damage Control: Melvin.Gordon
We have a full-fledged Le‘Veon Bell type of situation going on in Los Angeles. In case anyone has been hiding beneath bridges and had not been previously privy to the information, Melvin Gordon is in the midst of a holdout, requesting a new deal or a trade. Yes, a situation that frustrated fantasy football owners to no end last season is on the verge of being played on repeat.
Training camp has started for the Chargers, and thus far, Gordon has not been present while both sides continue to work on contract negotiations. Reportedly, neither side is close to an agreement.
The range of potential outcomes is very broad, with Gordon expected to make good on his word and not report to training camp. This could trickle into the season, meaning he misses actual, meaningful games. He could be traded. Or, he could sign a new deal before or shortly after this publishes making all of this moot.
For the sake of this article, we are going to analyze what this means strictly for fantasy owners. How should owners approach drafting Melvin Gordon or the rest of this backfield?
Melvin Gordon and Fantasy Drafts
First and foremost, where should potential owners draft Melvin Gordon? Last year, Lev Bell destroyed rosters where owners were not sharp enough to grab James Conner. To be fair, most people did not expect him to actually sit out the entirety of the season. Alas, a valuable lesson learned. Since the news of the holdout began we have already seen it affect his average draft position. Taking him from 1.08 to 2.03 with expectations to continue a downward trend.
The situation as it stands right now would indicate there is a high-risk factor to drafting Gordon, even at the 2.03 spot. With the potential of missing games, he will probably end up in the middle of the third round, surrounded by players like Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry. As much as it pains me to place him here, the risk is only growing along with the contentious nature of the negotiations thus far. The flip-side to the declining ADP does bake in the risk, making him a value if this situation gets hastily resolved.
If that were to occur, owners are getting a potential top-five performer for a value price. Last season, Gordon finished as the RB5 on a points-per-game basis. His 10 rushing touchdowns were good enough for sixth among running backs. He also finished with 66 targets and four more receiving scores.
Don’t think LAC will have a problem filling MGIII’s shoes if he holds out?
Last season ranks among RB’s
5th in PPG
6th in rushing TD’s
10th in receiving YDS
Tied 4th in receiving TD’s
8th in fantasy points
In 12 games 👀 #FantasyFootball
— John Hesterman (@john_hesterman) July 27, 2019
Plain and simple, Gordon has legitimate top-five appeal if he plays a full season. This situation should be closely monitored until resolved. Unfortunately, despite him losing money by missing training camp, and subsequent game checks do not equate to a speedy resolution. Potential owners should begin analyzing contingency plans.
Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson
This has been a debated topic among fantasy football enthusiasts and on Twitter since the holdout news broke. Who’s the direct replacement if Gordon is out. This might not be as easy of an answer as most would hope.
Lasts season Austin Ekeler carved out a niche role for himself. Even with a productive Gordon on the field, Ekeler turned some heads with his production on limited work.
Ekeler excelled as an ancillary option in this backfield. However, when the chance for a lead-dog type of role emerged, he put up mediocre fantasy numbers.
It was week 12 when Justin Jackson began to see some opportunity. In that game, all three backs were involved. Gordon led the way with two rushing scores and Ekeler finished with one. Jackson saw more carries than Ekeler but Ekeler finished with 11 targets.
With Gordon out weeks 13-15 (which, props to him for making an apology to his owners) the backfield became more split between Ekeler and Jackson. Ekeler missed week 15, so the following includes weeks 13 and 14 only. Those two games, Ekeler finished with 28 carries for 87 rushing yards and one touchdown. He also had seven receptions on 15 targets for 50 yards.
Justin Jackson in those same games had 15 carries for 75 rushing yards and one score while getting only three receptions for 24 yards.
Phillip Rivers‘ passer rating per receiver shows how plentiful and valuable the short-yardage passes are for this offense. The chart above highlights Rivers’ passer rating being exceptional when targeting Ekeler versus when targeting Jackson. The chart below shows how both backs fared with their respective opportunities. Again, the data supports Ekeler on points per opportunity.
Ekeler showed more productivity and efficiency with his opportunity than Jackson last season. This leads to the expectation of him to get the first crack at leading this backfield should Gordon’s holdout enter into the season.
Let us begin by taking a closer look at productivity.
The above chart would better viewed as a flip-chart beginning with the positional average. Add Melvin Gordon’s plotline, ooh and ahh over the result while nodding one’s head. Add Austin Ekeler and we see a PPR value play that has standalone flex appeal. Flip the page and add Justin Jackson and we have a boom-or-bust player that also seems to operate best as part of a committee.
For owners who draft Melvin Gordon, it is imperative to handcuff him with Austin Ekeler. If anyone questions that strategy, I have three words for you. James Conner 2018. Good, glad that’s settled. If checks get written and contracts get signed, Ekeler would still have a standalone value based on how he handled the satellite role last season. Per Fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Ekeler is being drafted at the back of the seventh round in PPR formats. Expect that cost to rise in the coming weeks unless ink begins drying on paper. Justin Jackson is going in the 13th and is worth a speculative add in deeper leagues should the holdout continue.
Wrapping It Up
What makes this a draft-day minefield is that we will not know…until we know. What we can glean from the data is that one of these running backs will not replace the consistently high production of Gordon. It will take both of them to mirror his value on a per-game basis and that strongly hints at a committee approach.
The Chargers have an effective and high powered offense that was sixth-highest in total points-per-game last season. That translates to scoring opportunity for the running backs in said offense. The safest fantasy value representation here is Austin Ekeler, while the highest potential ceiling remains Melvin Gordon. Justin Jackson still comes in as a value as he will see some opportunity if Gordon is not on the field. The problem with Jackson is that his value diminishes entirely if and when Melvin Gordon makes his return.
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