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Out Of The Box

Preseason Look: Melvin Gordon

by Cian Fahey
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

My search for a potential first round running back in the 2015 NFL Draft began with Georgia's Todd Gurley. Gurley set a very high standard as he showed off outstanding physical talent, superb vision and very precise footwork.


With a strong season, he is one of the backs in the nation who could crack the top 32 picks of the 2015 draft.


Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin is another.


An obvious comparison emanates in the minds of everyone who watches Gordon. From the dreadlocks dropping out of the back of his helmet, his relatively tall, well-built frame and the number 25 on the back of his jersey, every aesthetic about Gordon reminds onlookers of the Kansas City Chiefs Jamaal Charles.


Aesthetics murky the waters of pro player comparisons. Just because two players look alike, it doesn't mean they play alike. What is much more important is the skill set each player carries.


For Gordon, the aesthetics align with Charles, but, for the most part, the skill set does too.


When Andy Reid took over as the Chiefs head coach last year, he made Charles a focus of the passing game. Charles had 70 receptions in one season. With Wisconsin, Gordon had just one reception last season after just two the previous year. When he lines up out wide, Gordon is more likely to come across and take the ball from the quarterback on an end around.


In this sense, Charles and Gordon are very different players. Yet, once Gordon gets the ball in his hands, a couple of obvious similarities become impossible to ignore.



Against Arizona State, Gordon initially gets the ball from the quarterback as an outside linebacker to the bottom of the screen is arriving unblocked. The linebacker doesn't recognize that Gordon has the ball, but he is in a position that forces Gordon to react and adjust to his presence. At the sight of the defender, Gordon doesn't hesitate or panic with his footwork. He sways his upper body away from the defender before extending his left leg to plant and push towards the edge.


The ease and speed at which Gordon does this is important. Changing direction comes very, very easy for the young back. Importantly, he doesn't waste any movement because he plants his foot perpendicular to the sideline so he can still view the blocking ahead of him and turn inside or continue towards the outside.



Gordon accelerates to the outside as he watches the deeper of the two initial defenders. He takes a wide route towards his outside blocker and is initially attacking the outside shoulder of that blocker. This wide route is important because it takes the defender at the line of scrimmage out of the play and pushes the deeper defender further towards the sideline.



His initial movement allowed the outside blocker to use the defender's momentum and clear a running lane behind his back. However, Gordon needs to quickly shuffle his feet and accelerate through the running lane because the other defender is using his momentum to close the gap on him and tackle him before he can break onto the second level.



Once on the second level, Gordon has one defender left to beat. That defender is quickly engaged on a block by one of Wisconsin's receivers. The positioning of both players suggests that Gordon needs to immediately attack the outside. Gordon doesn't do that. Instead he makes a very quick, but also a very sharp cut with his planted foot after angling his run infield for a moment.


This movement drags the deep defender further infield and takes him out of the play when Gordon cuts back towards the sideline. Most runners who do this should slow down slightly and afford the other defenders pursuing him an opportunity to catch up to him.


Not only does Gordon have the speed to get to the end zone before they can catch him, he never really loses ground by executing that cut. The combination of his quick feet, balance and acceleration in that moment allow him a relatively easy run down the sideline.


Jamaal Charles is known for his breakaway speed, but two things separate Charles from other speed backs on the next level. One of those things is his ability to make these kinds of cuts without slowing down or losing his balance.


The other is discipline in vision.


Discipline in vision is something that many speed backs in the NFL struggle to fully comprehend. Vision is the ability to find running lanes and read the defense, whereas discipline in vision is your ability to do that on a snap-to-snap basis. This is a tougher concept to grasp for speed backs because they are often desperate to find space outside where they can make big plays and they absorb bigger hits in tighter running lanes between the tackles.


On the college level, Gordon has proved himself in this area. He understands how to find the right running lane and isn't hesitant running between the tackles. Rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns during a single season in an offense that didn't simply give him space to run into on every snap suggests that he can be consistent in this area. Of course, we won't really know until he plays on the next level and the hits become harder and the lanes become tighter.


This is something that seems minor when you have the ability to break off big plays, but it's the difference between someone like Jamaal Charles and Andre Ellington. Ellington is still developing his discipline with the ball in his hands. To be an effective feature back, he can't leave as many yards on the field as he did last year. For Gordon, this is even more important because he hasn't proven himself as a receiver.


Running between the tackles shouldn't affect Gordon as negatively as it possibly affected Ellington last year. While he is not as big as Georgia's Gurley, Gordon's frame isn't too lean. He is slender, but powerful enough to break arm tackles on the college level. He is also big enough to suggest that is a trait that will translate to the NFL.


When you can shake defenders in tight spaces with your quickness and accelerate away before they can react, you don't need to be able to run over defenders. Having the ability to break arm tackles as a speed back is, in itself, massively beneficial.

Cian Fahey
Cian Fahey Writes for Bleacher Report, Football Outsiders and Football Guys and owner of Pre Snap Reads. You can follow him on Twitter @Cianaf.