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What production should the Broncos expect to get from Melvin Gordon in 2020?

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a historical and statistical look at what we should reasonably expect from a 27 year old running back

Over the past decade in the NFL there have been 46 running backs who have run for 1100 yards or more in a season. Melvin Gordon is one of them. Melvin Gordon did that in his best season which was 2017. He accounted for 1581 yards from scrimmage that season and that figure was 26 percent of the Chargers team total. Oddly enough he did not make the Pro-Bowl that season, but he did in the year before and the year after. Gordon ran for 1105 yards that season, which is why I chose 1100 yards as the benchmark for this study.

Those 46 RB’s have 84 seasons where they have run for more than 1100 yards. Twenty one RB’s have done it multiple times over the past decade with LeSean McCoy leading the pack with five seasons where he ran for 1100 yards or more.

Player instances
LeSean McCoy 5
Frank Gore 4
Adrian Peterson 4
Marshawn Lynch 4
Arian Foster 4
DeMarco Murray 3
Jamaal Charles 3
Le'Veon Bell 3
Ray Rice 3
Ezekiel Elliott 3
Todd Gurley 3
Michael Turner 2
Steven Jackson 2
Chris Johnson 2
Maurice Jones-Drew 2
Doug Martin 2
Alfred Morris 2
Chris Carson 2
Eddie Lacy 2
Joe Mixon 2
Jordan Howard 2
Willis McGahee 1
LeGarrette Blount 1
Justin Forsett 1
Matt Forte 1
Mark Ingram 1
Cedric Benson 1
Ryan Mathews 1
Derrick Henry 1
C.J. Spiller 1
David Johnson 1
Nick Chubb 1
Ahmad Bradshaw 1
Peyton Hillis 1
Leonard Fournette 1
Dalvin Cook 1
Melvin Gordon 1
Christian McCaffrey 1
Rashard Mendenhall 1
Jay Ajayi 1
Stevan Ridley 1
Darren McFadden 1
Kareem Hunt 1
Jeremy Hill 1
Saquon Barkley 1
Josh Jacobs 1

Notice that Derrick Henry and David Johnson, like Melvin Gordon, have only topped 1100 yards rushing once. Melvin Gordon’s contract makes him the 6th highest paid RB in the NFL. Henry and Johnson are above him on the list as is Kenyan Drake, who has never had even a 1000 yard rushing season. Drake’s best year was 2019, where he accounted for 1162 yards from scrimmage.

So let’s shift the focus now to the “older” running backs who have run for 1100 or more yards in a season over the past decade. Gordon will be 27 next season. There have been 25 instances of an “old” RB (27 or older) running for 1100 or more yards, but those seasons have been compiled by only 16 RB’s with six guys doing it multiple times as “old” players.

  • Frank Gore - 4x
  • Adrian Peterson - 3x
  • LeSean McCoy - 2x
  • Marshawn Lynch - 2x
  • Michael Turner - 2x
  • Steven Jackson - 2x
  • Arian Foster
  • Cedric Benson
  • Chris Johnson
  • DeMarco Murray
  • Jamaal Charles
  • Justin Forsett
  • LeGarrette Blount
  • Mark Ingram
  • Matt Forte
  • Willis McGahee
Player Year Age Tm G GS Att Yds Y/A TD
Cedric Benson 2010 28 CIN 16 16 321 1111 3.46 7
Michael Turner 2010 28 ATL 16 15 334 1371 4.10 12
Steven Jackson 2010 27 STL 16 16 330 1241 3.76 6
Frank Gore 2011 28 SFO 16 15 282 1211 4.29 8
Michael Turner 2011 29 ATL 16 15 301 1340 4.45 11
Steven Jackson 2011 28 STL 15 15 260 1145 4.40 5
Willis McGahee 2011 30 DEN 15 14 249 1199 4.82 4
Adrian Peterson 2012 27 MIN 16 16 348 2097 6.03 12
Chris Johnson 2012 27 TEN 16 15 276 1243 4.50 6
Frank Gore 2012 29 SFO 16 16 258 1214 4.71 8
Adrian Peterson 2013 28 MIN 14 14 279 1266 4.54 10
Frank Gore 2013 30 SFO 16 16 276 1128 4.09 9
Jamaal Charles 2013 27 KAN 15 15 259 1287 4.97 12
Marshawn Lynch 2013 27 SEA 16 16 301 1257 4.18 12
Matt Forte 2013 28 CHI 16 16 289 1339 4.63 9
Arian Foster 2014 28 HOU 13 13 260 1246 4.79 8
Frank Gore 2014 31 SFO 16 16 255 1106 4.34 4
Justin Forsett 2014 29 BAL 16 14 235 1266 5.39 8
Marshawn Lynch 2014 28 SEA 16 14 280 1306 4.66 13
Adrian Peterson 2015 30 MIN 16 16 327 1485 4.54 11
DeMarco Murray 2016 28 TEN 16 16 293 1287 4.39 9
LeGarrette Blount 2016 30 NWE 16 8 299 1161 3.88 18
LeSean McCoy 2016 28 BUF 15 15 234 1267 5.41 13
LeSean McCoy 2017 29 BUF 16 16 287 1138 3.97 6
Mark Ingram 2017 28 NOR 16 13 230 1124 4.89 12

You should note that no “old” RB was able to run for 1100 or more yards in either of the last two seasons.

So let’s look at what those individual players were able to do before they were 27 and how it compared to their performance at the age of 27. Most of these 16 were on the downside of their careers at 27, but not all. I’ll break these down into three groups

  1. guys who had the best year before the age of 27
  2. guys who had their best year at the age of 27
  3. guys who had their best year after the age of 27

So below is the chart comparing how these 16 running backs did in terms of averages before in their “before 27” seasons and then what they did in their season where they were 27.

There are eight guys in group one, three guys in group two and five guys in group three.

Player Rushing Attempts Rushing Yards Rushing TD Targets Catches Rec. Yards Receiving TD Age during best season
Arian Foster before 27 252.5 1130.2 11 55.8 41.8 382.8 6 24
Arian Foster at 27 121 542 1 35 22 183 1
Chris Johnson before 27 296.8 1411.2 9.5 67.3 48.5 356.5 1 24
Chris Johnson at 27 276 1243 6 49 36 232 0
DeMarco Murray before 27 233.5 1131.5 7 51.8 42.8 300 0.3 26
DeMarco Murray at 27 193 702 6 55 44 322 1
LeSean McCoy before 27 243.5 1132 7.3 63.8 50 380.3 1.7 25
LeSean McCoy at 27 203 895 3 50 32 292 2
Marshawn Lynch before 27 207.4 876 6.6 32.4 23.7 173.7 0.4 26
Marshawn Lynch at 27 301 1257 12 44 36 316 2
Steven Jackson before 27 258 1117.8 6.8 63 46.8 381.2 1.2 23
Steven Jackson at 27 330 1241 6 62 46 383 0
Willis McGahee before 27 290.5 11143 7.8 37.5 27.8 183.5 0.3 26
Willis McGahee at 27 170 671 7 32 24 173 0
Adrian Peterson before 27 281.2 1350.4 12.8 39.6 27.4 261.8 0.6 27
Adrian Peterson at 27 348 2097 12 51 40 217 1
Cedric Benson before 27 158.5 585 3 16 11.5 91.3 0 27
Cedric Benson at 27 301 1251 6 24 17 111 0
Jamaal Charles before 27 156.8 907.2 3.4 42.6 30.4 256.4 1.4 27
Jamaal Charles at 27 259 1287 12 104 70 693 7
Frank Gore before 27 233.6 1112.2 6.4 63.6 44.8 366.2 1.4 23
Frank Gore at 27 203 853 3 72 46 452 2
Justin Forsett before 27 55.6 257.4 1.4 28.4 19.4 146 0.2 29
Justin Forsett at 27 63 374 1 5 3 38 0
LeGarrette Blount before 27 142 646.3 4.3 11.3 7 54.7 0 30
LeGarrette Blount at 27 153 772 7 5 2 38 0
Mark Ingram before 27 149.6 639 5.2 26 20.6 138.6 0 28
Mark Ingram at 27 205 1043 6 58 46 319 4
Matt Forte before 27 253.5 1058.2 5.3 73.5 55.8 496.3 2 28
Matt Forte at 27 248 1094 5 59 44 340 1
Michael Turner before 27 120.8 591.2 4.6 5 3.4 22.4 0 26
Michael Turner at 27 178 871 10 7 5 35 0

Focus on the far right column which shows the age when each RB had their best season.

Group 1 - peaked before 27

Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Demarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Steven Jackson, Willis McGahee and Michael Turner all had their best season before the age of 27. Murray, Lynch, Turner and McGahee’s best seasons all came at the age of 26. Foster (2220 yards from scrimmage) and Johnson (2509) had one huge season at the age of 24 and never came close to matching it afterwards. Similarly Murray (2260) had one great season that he never came close to matching after.

Some of these guys had good years after the age of 26. Murray had his second best season with Titans at the age of 28 in 2016 when he accounted for 1664 yards from scrimmage. McGahee had one of his best seasons in 2011 with Denver when he accounted for 1250 yards from scrimmage (1199 rushing). LeSean McCoy had two really good seasons with Buffalo at the age of 28 and 29 when he accounted for 1623 and 1586 yards from scrimmage.

So if 2017 is to be Gordon’s career season (1581 yards from scrimmage), that does not mean that he can’t have a very good season for the Broncos at the age of 27 or after like Murray, McCoy and McGahee did.

Group 2 - peaked at the age of 27

Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles all had their best seasons at the age of 27.

Peterson had been elite since entering the league at the age of 22, making the pro-bowl four times and first team AllPro twice before the age of 27, but at the age of 27 he had one of the best seasons for a running back in NFL history. He ran for 2097 yards and added another 217 yards receiving to generate 2314 yards from scrimmage. That is tied for 9th best in the history of the league. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2012 at the age of 27. That is astounding considering that he averaged a league best 4.80 yards per carry in the five seasons before that and then he increased that by 25%. Now, I’m not trying to say that Melvin Gordon is Adrian Peterson. AP is a generational talent at running back who will be in the Hall of Fame after his career is over. I am fairly confident that Melvin Gordon will not, but he could still be a very good running back for us in 2020 and 2021.

Cedric Benson is an interesting case. After being taken 4th overall in the draft he was a bust for the Bears generating 797 yards from scrimmage or less in all three seasons in Chicago. He was traded to the Bengals where he would spend another year looking like a bust (3.5 ypc, 932 yards from scrimmage), before he became the feature back in Cincy and flourished for three seasons cranking out 1362, 1289 and 1149 yards from in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at the ages of 27, 28 and 29. He would finish his career with one terrible season with the Packers in 2012 before retiring.

Jamaal Charles had a really good season at the age of 24 with Chiefs (1935 yards from scrimmage), but he would not have his best season until he was 27. In 2013 at the age of 27, Charles accounted for 1980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns. He alone accounted for 36.7% of the Chiefs yards on offense that year. He would go on to have another good season in 2014 at the age of 28 - generating 1324 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs, but the heavy usage took it’s toll on his rather small frame and he never came close to that again in his career. In fact, he generated less than 1324 yards from scrimmage during his final four NFL seasons combined.

Group 3 - Guys who peaked after the age of 27

I was surprised to see this many guys on this group. All of their stories are quite different though.

Justin Forsett was an afterthought in first six NFL seasons with the Colts, Seahawks, Texans and Jaguars. Then he found his niche with Gary Kubiak’s offense in Baltimore in 2014. At the age of 29, Forsett had his one and only good season in the NFL. He generated 1529 yards from scrimmage and scored eight of his twenty career touchdowns. Similar to Jamaal Charles, he would generate less than 1529 total yards during the final three seasons after this before he retired.

LeGarrette Blount is similar to Forsett in that his career was relatively quiet after rushing for 1007 yards as a rookie with the Bucs. He was in the right place at the right time in 2016 with the Patriots where he would be the feature back in New England at the age of 30. His 299 carries that year are a career high by far, as are almost all of his stats that season. He ran for 18 touchdowns and 1191 yards despite averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. Blount will probably be remembered more for what he did in the playoffs than for what he did in the regular season once his career is done. He has 11 playoffs rushing touchdowns and only 56 career regular season rushing touchdowns. His eleven playoff rushing touchdowns are tied with Marcus Allen for 7th all-time. Emmitt Smith is the career leader with 19. With the exception of Marshawn Lynch, the other folks who have 11 or more playoff rushing touchdowns are all in the Hall of Fame. Blount will not be in the Hall of Fame.

Matt Forte was drafted in the second round by the Bears in 2008 and he was their offense for the eight years he was there. He had his best season in 2013 at the age of 28. He generated 1933 yards from scrimmage that season and twelve touchdowns - both career bests. He was also quite productive the next year as well generating 1846 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns at the age of 29. That was pretty much all the gas he had in the tank as he went to the Jets the next season where he would fade hard in his final two seasons (1076 and 674 yards generated) before retirement.

Mark Ingram, unlike Matt Forte, was lightly used during the first five or six years of his NFL career. He had his best season at the age of 28 in 2017 for the Saints (who drafted him 28th overall) when he generated 1540 yards from scrimmage. Before the age of 27, Ingram averaged 4.27 yards per carry. During his career year at the age of 28, he averaged 4.89. Honestly Ingram could still have his best year ahead of him. He was quite good for the Ravens in 2019 at the age of 30.

Finally, we come to the ageless one, Frank Gore. Gore has generated close to 20000 yards from scrimmage during his career (19243). He has been remarkably consistent as well, accounting for 1200 or more yards from scrimmage every season from 2006 to 2017. It’s debatable whether his career best season was 2009 at age of 26 (1526 yds from scrimmage, 13 TDs) or 2012 at the age of 29 (1448 yds, 9 TDs). You could make the argument either way, but one point is not up for debate - Gore has been the poster child for running back production after the age of 27. He now has more yards generated after the age of 27 (10546) than he had before (7392).

So what? What does this tell us about Melvin Gordon in 2020?

During his first five seasons in the league Gordon averaged 212 carries, 848 rushing yards, 7.2 rushing TDs, 59.6 targets, 44.8 catches, 375 receiving yards and 2.2 receiving TDs. He averaged 1283 yards from scrimmage and 9.4 total TDs. So can we assume that he matches those numbers? Maybe, maybe not. He has a history of missing time with injuries. He missed time holding out in 2019, but he has only appeared in 16 regular season games once in his career (2017). So one thing that might keep his production down is nagging injuries.

The other thing that might keep his production down is the time-share with Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay has run for more than 1000 yards during his first two NFL seasons and Gordon was most effective (5.1 yards per carry) in 2018 when he was sharing the load with Austin Ekeler (106 carries) and Justin Jackson (50 carries). Gordon had 175 carries that year. Lindsay had 192 and 224 carries in his first two seasons. Lindsay and Gordon have almost exactly the same number of average carries per year (208 and 212) over their careers. If both players get their career averages, the Broncos would have something on the order of 460 rushing attempts in 2020. Only six teams had more than that in 2019 and only one team, Baltimore, had more than 500 (they had 596).

Poll

Now that you have seen the data what do expect the Broncos to get from Gordon in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    better than his career averages - old running backs rarely perform well in the second contracts, but Gordon will
    (134 votes)
  • 72%
    roughly his career average - he will be good but nothing spectacular
    (538 votes)
  • 9%
    worse than his career averages - he will not be motivated except in the games against Chargers since he already got his money
    (71 votes)
743 votes total Vote Now