After two drafts with no running back taken in the first round, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon both went in the first 15 picks of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gurley was the first to go, somewhat surprisingly to St. Louis at No. 10, while San Diego made the first trade of the night by swapping with San Francisco to move up two spots to take Gordon with the 15th overall pick.
Both backs could step into starting jobs for their new teams fairly early, so from a fantasy standpoint which rookie is the one to target first come draft day? Let’s take a look at each breaking down the following areas: College Resume, Team Fit, 2015 Schedule and Potential Obstacles
Todd Gurley – If not for a four-game suspension for violation of NCAA rules and then a torn ACL in November, Gurley may have been in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. In three seasons at Georgia, Gurley rushed for 3,285 yards in 30 games, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He averaged more than a touchdown (36 rushing, six receiving) per game on offense alone and also returned two kickoffs for scores.
Melvin Gordon – The Heisman Trophy runner-up to Marcus Mariota, Gordon led the nation in rushing (2,587) and tied for the top spot in scoring (32 TDs). In four seasons at Wisconsin, Gordon rushed for 4,915 yards (boasting an impressive 7.8 ypc) and scored 49 total touchdowns. Keep in mind that in his first three seasons Gordon shared the spotlight with the Broncos’ Montee Ball (2011-12) and Patriots’ James White (2011-13). Gordon did most of his damage as a senior.
Advantage: Gurley gets the nod here because of the SEC’s reputation as being the nation’s best college football conference. Gordon’s production is impressive, but Wisconsin is known for running the ball and the Badgers’ offense is built around just that.
Gurley – Jeff Fisher loves to run the ball, going back to his days with the Titans. If Gurley’s knee checks out, Fisher could have his best running back since Eddie George was churning out 1,000-yard seasons from 1996-2003. St. Louis averaged 102.2 yards rushing per game in 2014, with rookie Tre Mason being the most productive back. The initial reports on Gurley’s recovery have been positive, so as long as he’s healthy and picks up the Rams’ playbook, the opportunity for 20-25 carries per game is clearly there.
Gordon – Ryan Matthews is now in Philadelphia, but San Diego’s running back cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Danny Woodhead, who only played in three games last season because of a broken leg, will get his share of touches, especially in passing situations, and Branden Oliver showed flashes as well. Gordon wasn’t called on to block or pass protect very much at Wisconsin, so it may take him some time to get up to speed in those areas. Roles can change as the season progresses, but Gordon probably will be used primarily as a two-down back early on.
Advantage: Gurley will have to show he can handle the blocking and pass-protection aspects too, but the Rams’ offensive philosophy should present him with more touches out of the gate than Gordon will see with the Chargers.
Gurley – Playing in the NFC West, the Rams have two games against the defending division and NFC champion Seahawks as well as the Cardinals. Crossover play against the NFC North doesn’t look that scary, especially with Ndamukong Suh no longer on the Lions. The AFC North has some decent defenses, but the Ravens and Steelers also have seen personnel changes on that side of the ball. Overall, it doesn’t appear to be that tough of a slate for a RB.
Gordon – The Chargers also get the AFC and NFC North in crossover play. Their swing games are Jacksonville and Miami, two teams that struggled to stop the run last season, but again the Dolphins now have Suh, an All-Pro defensive tackle, up front. As far as the AFC West goes, the Broncos were No. 2 against the run in 2014, but the Raiders (22nd) and Chiefs (28th) didn’t fare as well.
Advantage: Gordon gets the slight edge here mainly because of Gurley’s total of four games against Seattle and Arizona. Division-wise, there’s no contest when it comes to the quality of the defenses in the NFC West compared to the AFC West.
Gurley – Two seasons ago, Zac Stacy came out of nowhere as a fifth-round pick to rush for 973 yards. Last season, he gets just 293 on 76 carries, while Tre Mason, a third-round selection, leads the way with 765 yards, most of that coming over the final seven games. Gurley has the potential to break out, but will he get the opportunity from Week 1 or will it take some time to grasp the offense? And there’s also a chance the Rams decide to take it slow with Gurley because of his knee.
Gordon – San Diego has other options in Woodhead and Oliver, who already figure to take touches away from Gordon regardless of how quickly he learns the playbook. Philip Rivers isn’t the most mobile of quarterbacks and even though he’s entering the final year of his contract, he’s still critical to the Chargers’ success. If Gordon can’t do his job in pass protection or catch the ball, he could be eased into the offense.
Advantage: Both rookies will have to earn their playing time, but Gurley’s path to significant touches seems clearer, provided the surgically repaired knee is ready for the workload.
Both Gurley and Gordon figure to be attractive options in fantasy drafts this fall. Running backs could be the difference between a fantasy championship contender and a team that just can’t get over the hump each week. Many fell in love with Montee Ball and Zac Stacy last season and took them early, only to watch them get hurt or struggle to produce. Gurley and Gordon both could develop into top-10 fantasy options, but probably not this season.
Even with the questions surrounding the knee, Gurley is a more appealing option with considerably larger upside in my opinion, making him the target. However, at this point, Gurley is a borderline top-25 RB for 2015, as there are questions about his knee and how quickly he will receive a starter’s workload. Gordon also has intriguing upside, but the likelihood of limited touches has him in flex territory, for now.