Melvin Gordon is finally returning to the LA Chargers this week. Though he will not play in the week four matchup against Miami, this changes the fantasy football landscape drastically yet again this young season. At his best, Melvin Gordon could be a top-five fantasy running back. Last year, Melvin Gordon finished the year as RB7 thanks to 885 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. The year before, Gordon had over 1,000 yards rushing and 12 total TDs. In other words, Melvin Gordon has been a consistent force to be reckoned with in fantasy football when healthy. But what is his fantasy outlook the rest of the season?
This could go one of two ways. The first scenario is that Gordon continues the same level of production when he suits back up for the Chargers this season. He is going to score touchdowns and put up yards while supplementing those numbers in the passing game. While Gordon may not be in football shape yet (which is to be expected since he was away from the team up until this point), he is a veteran so it is reasonable to assume that he is not too far away from being able to perform on Sundays. Complicating this matter a bit is the fact that Gordon’s replacement, Austin Ekeler, has been an absolute stud filling in so far this season. Melvin Gordon has reported the assumption is that when he is ready to go he will take over as the lead back. This is extremely likely, but with the way Ekeler has performed this season, the Chargers are most likely going to utilize him more than previous seasons, especially in the passing game. So, Melvin Gordon should be the lead back when he returns, but it may be more of a reduced carry role, i.e. Todd Gurley. This new role could be difficult for fantasy owners of Melvin Gordon.
The second scenario is that this is a temporary situation for the Chargers and Gordon barring a trade. In this situation, it is plausible that the Chargers use Gordon extensively once he returns in anticipation of a trade. Think about it, Gordon could have sat out half the season before reporting and still be eligible for free agency next year. But he did not. We can say this is because he wanted to report because he wanted to be with his teammates and he had an obligation to, but at the end of the day it comes down to money and value. Melvin Gordon reported because he saw his replacements thriving in his stead, so if he comes back now, he should be able to do well. This would give him leverage in his contract negotiations with other teams after he is traded. The NFL trade deadline is October 29th, so Gordon and the Chargers have around four weeks to establish his value. The incentive for Gordon is simple — the better he does, the more money he should make in his next contract. The incentive the Chargers have to play Gordon and use him extensively is to showcase him to other teams and hope he does well enough to build up his trade value. In this scenario, the fantasy outlook for Melvin Gordon would be really good, while the impact to Austin Ekler and Justin Jackson would be very grim.
A trade at the deadline would be the best thing for fantasy owners of Gordon, Ekeler, and Jackson. As far as week five goes, if Melvin Gordon plays, he would be a difficult start for me right away as most of his value would be touchdown-dependent. After week five, he might have a Todd Gurley-esque reduced role. This would mean he would be worth a start but might not be that consistent presence that he was in the past. Austin Ekeler’s value would decrease, as he might fall into a more receiving-back role that might only be valuable in PPR leagues. Justin Jackson might not be worth a roster spot when Gordon returns. Ekeler owners should not panic and trade him now because he still has some fantasy value and it is possible Gordon gets traded. It might be difficult, but playing the wait-and-see game until after the trade deadline, just like Melvin Gordon fantasy owners had to do, with Austin Ekeler might pay off later in the fantasy season.
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