Melvin Gordon’s arrival is not bad news for Phillip Lindsay
Melvin Gordon’s arrival is not a negative impact on Phillip Lindsay.
Since the Denver Broncos signed free agent running back Melvin Gordon, it feels like the overwhelming reaction from the fan base has been negative, and for a variety of reasons.
Some fans just don’t like the idea of signing a free agent running back on principle.
Others simply don’t like the fact that the Broncos paid Gordon $16 million over two seasons when he has one season of 1,000 yards rushing to his name.
Many fans feel like Gordon signing was a sign of disrespect to incumbent RB1 Phillip Lindsay, the 2018 undrafted free agent star who has run for over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons with the Broncos and became the first undrafted rookie running back to make the Pro Bowl in NFL history.
Gordon and Lindsay are from two very different paths and are two very different backs.
Gordon, unlike Lindsay, was a first-round pick in his draft class back in 2015. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Gordon is a hulking presence compared to the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Lindsay.
Still, I loved the signing of Gordon for a number of reasons and I think he and Lindsay can work well in tandem for the Denver Broncos in 2020 and beyond.
Gordon and Lindsay snap usage
Although many have pointed out that Pat Shurmur typically doesn’t use two-back sets and has favored one back in the past couple of seasons with the Giants (Saquon Barkley), there are reasons to believe Gordon and Lindsay will have equal roles in Shurmur’s 2020 offense.
Look no further than the 2017 Minnesota Vikings and their running back usage for evidence.
2017 Vikings RB snap counts
- Jerick McKinnon (527 snaps)
- Latavius Murray (421 snaps)
- Dalvin Cook (169 snaps; injured)
If you figure there are roughly 1,000 snaps to go around for an offensive unit throughout the course of a 16-game season, both Gordon and Lindsay should see plenty of work.
Since Lindsay has been in the league, both players have proven to be extremely effective without even playing 60 percent of the offensive snaps.
Phillip Lindsay snap counts (2018-19)
- 2018: 453 (42 percent)
- 2019: 513 (51 percent)
Melvin Gordon snap counts (2018-19; with Austin Ekeler featured)
- 2018: 524 snaps (53 percent)
- 2019: 427 (40 percent; holdout, played 12 games)
Both Gordon and Lindsay were most effective in the 2018 season when Gordon set a career-high with 14 total offensive touchdowns and Lindsay averaged 5.6 yards per touch with 10 touchdowns compared to 4.7 yards per touch with seven scores.
There is no guarantee that given the exact same usage as they had in those two seasons that Gordon and Lindsay would be equally productive, but in the 2018 season, Lindsay and Gordon racked up a combined 2,653 yards from scrimmage and 24 total touchdowns on less than 1,000 total offensive snaps.
Lindsay’s best season (out of just two so far) came when he played only 42 percent of the offensive snaps.
Many fans have been taking the Gordon signing as though he’s going to take the lion’s share of snaps and take away too much of Lindsay’s playing time, but neither of these players’ careers indicates that they will be ineffective with a split of touches.
In Gordon’s case, that has been proven completely false at this point in time. With the Chargers in 2018, Gordon took 225 total touches compared to Austin Ekeler’s 145.
Ekeler was still able to average 6.6 yards per touch and give the Chargers six total touchdowns.
In 2019, Gordon touched the ball 204 times compared to 224 for Ekeler. They combined for over 2,400 yards of offense and 20 touchdowns.
With or without Lindsay on the roster, Gordon has been in a tandem backfield the past two years in which both players have combined for 40 total touchdowns, 23 of which are Gordon’s. Based on the success Gordon has had in tandem backfields, it would be irresponsible of an offensive coordinator to expect him to be a bell cow ball carrier who plays 65 percent of the team’s offensive snaps or more.
It’s equally irresponsible of fans to expect that is the Broncos’ motive in signing Gordon, no matter his pay grade. He’s certainly going to have to earn his keep, but force-feeding him has rarely been a team’s most direct path to successfully utilizing him, at least in the NFL.
Broncos not ‘doing Lindsay dirty’ by bringing in Gordon
The Broncos are not doing Phillip Lindsay ‘dirty’ by bringing in Gordon and paying him a free agent contract, despite what has been said by many in the fan base.
Gordon plays the same position as Lindsay and sure, it’s more likely that one of them will be on the field at a time rather than two, but Gordon is more of an upgrade for the Broncos over Royce Freeman than an indictment of Phillip Lindsay and his future with the team.
Up to this point, John Elway and the front office have not re-worked Lindsay’s rookie contract even though he’s significantly out-performed it. The fact of the matter is, they don’t have to do that. Not only is Lindsay under contract for the 2020 season, but he’s also a restricted free agent after this year. He’s not even headed for unrestricted free agency.
Imagine the Broncos re-doing Courtland Sutton’s deal right now because he’s outplayed his rookie contract. I realize that he’s making more as a second-round pick compared to Lindsay who was an undrafted player, but the principle is the same. Lindsay is under team control, and any contract extension or raise the team would be giving him is purely out of the goodness of their hearts.
And there’s no indication at this point they are for sure not doing that at some point still.
Overall, the addition of Melvin Gordon should wind up being a really good one for the Broncos’ offense. Having 20 total touchdowns between the two running backs — if that trend continues for Gordon — would be outstanding.
Both Lindsay and Gordon have proven they can not only be effective with 50 percent of the snaps (or fewer) but Lindsay was actually much more productive on a lower snap count in 2018 when he only played in 15 games.
It will be fascinating to see what Shurmur does with these two guys, but betting on Gordon pushing Lindsay out of the lineup and relegating him to fewer than 40 percent of the snaps is not smart, in my opinion.