Born in Wisconsin, Melvin Gordon was a 4-star HS recruit who decided to stay in his home state to play in college. At a program with a storied run game, he played a backup role until the 2014 season, when he broke out. He enters the 2015 NFL draft as one of the top RB prospects on the board, and with a considerable chance of being selected in the first round.
Gordon suffered an injury in his freshman year and was given a medical redshirt. In 2012, he was third on the depth chart after Montee Ball and James White, and only got 62 carries. He made the most of his limited touches, averaging 10 yards a carry and rushing for 621 yards. With Ball leaving through the draft, Gordon got a bigger role in 2013, splitting time with White. While White got more carries, Gordon got more yards, rushing for 1,609 yards on 206 carries.
In 2014, Gordon finally got the call as the feature back, and he delivered. He set a multitude of school records, and broke the NCAA Division I record for most rushing yards in a single game with 408 against Nebraska. That record, which had been set by LaDanian Tomlinson in 1999, was broken again the next week, but it’s still an incredible acomplishment, especially because he did in in just three quarters on just 25 carries. On the season, he finished with 2,587 rushing yards, second only to Barry Sanders in Division I history.
In order to watch Gordon, I went to Draft Breakdown, which has nine of his college games.
|April 13, 1993
|Bench (225 lb)
|20 Yard Shuttle
|3 Cone Drill
|40 Yard Dash (10 yd split)
|4.52 sec (1.60 sec)
|60 Yard Shuttle
|University of Wisconsin (2011-2014)
|343 att, 2587 yards, 7.5 ypc, 29 TDs
|206 rec, 1609 yards, 7.8 ypc, 12 TDs
|62 rec, 621 yards, 10.0 ypc, 3 TDs
|20 rec, 98 yards, 4.9 ypc, 1 TDs
- Does a great job accelerating off of his plant foot on cuts
- Pressing the line of scrimmage when running
- If you’re facing him one-on-one in the open field, you’ve already lost
- Not great at pushing the pile. Has average power.
- Doesn’t get hit hard
- Very effective spin move
- Doesn’t stiff arm often but can use it
- Has great burst when running through holes. Covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
- Has the patience to wait for holes to open up
- Has great vision when running in the open field
- Not the strongest runner inside the tackles
- Has fumble concerns
- Is willing in pass protection, but sometimes over-aggressive
- Not much experience running routes and catching passes.
I feel as though Gordon’s cuts jump off the screen to me as the best part of his game. He plants his foot and just explodes out of the cut. Gordon’s cutting really keeps many running lanes open for him that don’t exist for less athletic RBs. It allows him to easily switch between gaps and explode through open holes. It also make him completely impossible to tackle in the open field. Throughout watching his tape, I saw a defender tackle him in a one-on-one situation like #25 has in the first gif maybe once. If you’re one-on-one against him in open space, you might as well turn around and chase him because that’s what you’re going to have to do.
Fighting through contact
Gordon is a tenacious runner, and keeps his legs churning through contact. He’s not a super powerful runner in the mold of Marshawn Lynch or Adrian Peterson, but he does do a very good job of breaking through arm tackles. He also uses his spin move very effectively, deflecting and minimizing contact to keep moving forward. He’s also very willing to engage defenders when running. This becomes quite clear in the last of the gifs above, where he could choose to go down after a long run but instead fights off two defenders for about 10 extra yards. That kind of grit is going to be something scouts and personnel men love.
I labeled this category “playmaking” for lack of a better word. What I mean by it is the RB still being able to make something happen after plans A, B, and C have all failed. This is an ability that is almost an intangible, but something all great players seem to have. Think of how many Barry Sanders highlights you’ve seen where he seems to be trapped in the backfield with nowhere to go but somehow rips off a TD run. Or, for a more recent example, think of Giovanni Bernard’s TD against the Dolphins in 2013. That’s what I mean by playmaking ability. As you can see, it’s a trait Gordon clearly possesses. While this is a very useful trait to have, if a player tries to rely on it too much, bad things can happen. Take this run from Gordon against Ohio State as an example:
Fortunately, I can report that Gordon doesn’t try to break make spectacular plays like these too often. In my opinion, it’s a very good sign because it shows that he has that special playmaking ability, but he’s able to keep it in check. For RBs, it’s beneficial a lot of the time to take a five yard gain up the gut over bouncing it to the outside and risking losing yards. Gordon is willing to take that five yard gain, but he also has the capabililty of making something astounding happen if he seems to have no options.