When the San Diego Chargers (4-6) took Melvin Gordon No. 15 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, they were hoping he would be the same dominant force in the NFL as he was in the NCAA.
Gordon struggled as a rookie, gaining only 641 yards behind an ever-changing offensive line. The Chargers used 24 offensive line combinations in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. As a team, they also finished the season averaging 3.46 yards per carry, worst in the league.
This was quite the disconnect from Gordon’s final season at Wisconsin.
Gordon’s junior season was the most prolific in Wisconsin history and was good for the second-best in NCAA history. Gordon finished the season with 2,587 rushing yards. He also found the end zone 32 times, 29 on rushing touchdowns.
As a rookie, Gordon failed to find the end zone once.
The highlight of Gordon’s junior season was an NCAA record-breaking, 408-yard, four-touchdown performance against Nebraska in a snowy Camp Randall Stadium. Sadly his record was short lived, as Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine eclipsed the record by gaining 427 yards a week later.
Gordon’s 408-yard game would have accounted for about two thirds of his entire rookie season.
While running behind a shaky line during his rookie season, Gordon’s hold on the ball was just as shaky. He put the ball on the turf six times, losing four fumbles.
Gordon reportedly put in the work in the offseason to improve his butterfingers, working with Adrian Peterson and trainer James Cooper. Peterson called upon Cooper after he coughed up the ball a combined 19 times during his first three seasons. After an offseason of putting in work with Cooper, Peterson fumbled only eight times over the following four seasons.
So far in 2016, the offseason work has helped Gordon. While he has fumbled twice (both lost), he is fumbling at a lower rate: two fumbles in 250 touches so far this season, compared to six fumbles in 217 touches last season.
Heading into his Week 11 bye, Gordon is currently second in the NFL with 11 touchdowns (nine rush, two receiving) and s third in rushing yards with 838. He has also tallied 346 receiving yards.
Gordon is also fourth in all-purpose yardage with 1,184 yards, trailing only rookie phenom, Ezekiel Elliott (1,255), David Johnson (1,213) and DeMarco Murray (1,189).
While some players have sophomore slumps, Gordon is having a sophomore surprise through 10 games. Given his current trajectory, he’s on pace to finish with 1,341 rushing yards, 554 receiving yards and a mind-blowing 18 touchdowns.
Gordon's most impressive game of his season (and his career) came two weekends ago, when the Chargers defeated the Tennessee Titans 43-35 on Nov. 6. His efforts earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Gordon finished the game with a career-high 196 rushing yards and a respectable 65 receiving yards. Not to mention, he also found the end zone.
He made arguably the biggest play of his young career with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter and the Chargers protecting an eight-point lead facing a 3rd-and-7. Gordon seemingly dragged the entire Titans defense along as he powered his way to a 47-yard gain, the second longest of his career, on a game-clinching run.
If able to keep up his production, Gordon could be a shoe-in for the 2016 NFL Most Improved Player Award.
Gordon will get a much-deserved breather this weekend as he and the rest of the Chargers will take part in their bye week. They will resume their season Nov. 27 when they travel to Houston to take on the Texans.