Chargers general manager Tom Telesco did a draft day trade each of his first two seasons with the team – in 2013, for linebacker Manti Te’o, and in 2014, for linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu. Both times, he traded up and gave away a fourth-round draft pick in the process, among other conditions.
Telesco stuck to form this year when he jumped from No. 17 to No. 15 in the first round of the draft to get Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, swapping spots with San Francisco and giving up a fourth-round pick this year and a fifth-round pick next year to get the guy he wanted.
(video by Andrew Burer)
Gordon, a Heisman runner-up, rushed for 29 touchdowns and 2,587 yards in 2014, including a record-setting 407-yard performance against Nebraska. He chalked up 12 100-yard games last season. Scouts say he is confident but plays with a chip on his shoulder; has elite vision and an impressive burst, as well as an effective spin move to make defenders miss in open field.
Ball security, however, has been an issue for the former Badger, who fumbled seven times in 2014 (sound familiar, Chargers fans?). Some scouting reports also call him an “uncomfortable pass-catcher” who needs a good deal of work on pass protection, though Telesco maintained he was the best pass protector in the draft.
Earlier this month, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said this to USA Today:
“We saw that he’s more comfortable catching the ball, and I think he’ll continue to improve, but it’s never going to be a strength of his game. I just don’t know how natural he is in space without the ball, running routes and getting open, working back to the quarterback, all those things.
“In pass protection, I think he became adequate, he showed willingness, and his awareness improved a little bit, but he’s really got to do a better job of sinking in and becoming more assertive and sustain blocks and be able to handle power rushes from blitzing linebackers. He gets driven back a little too often, and he’ll have to improve in that regard.”
For running backs to make the transition from college to the NFL, they need quickness, power, good lateral movement and the ability to pick up chunks of yards (as well as the vision and speed to complete a breakout run). Equally important is “Football I.Q.” – the know-how to read and digest a large, intricate playbook as well as pick up a blitz and protect their franchise quarterback when needed.
Think of this as a gift to Philip Rivers, who could use some help with a running game. Last season, the Chargers were third-worst in the NFL in average rushing yards per game (85.4) – albeit minus Danny Woodhead, who fractured his fibula in third game of the season. Still, even with Woodhead, the need for more of a ground game is critical.
Telesco said repeatedly that Gordon is an “impact player” who has “great intangibles” and a toughness that comes from playing in the Big Ten. How quickly he will be able to make that impact, however, remains to be seen.
Gordon now joins Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown in the running back corps in San Diego.
Twitter was mixed with this pick, especially considering the Chargers moved up to get Gordon. Here’s a sample of what was seen:
@annieheilbrunn haven't we learned you don't do this for RBs?
— Charlie Sangree (@chairmanchaz) May 1, 2015
@annieheilbrunn Awesome pick!!!
— T$ (@T_Drizzle619) May 1, 2015
@annieheilbrunn love it! Biggest need IMO for this team..
— DDF2112 (@DDFBOLT83) May 1, 2015
— Hiep Le (@hiep_le) May 1, 2015