How Should You Approach Melvin Gordon In Your Fantasy Draft?

Frankie Taddeo
Sports Illustrated

Frankie “Fantasy” Taddeo: Taddeo is the 2017 and 2018 PlayFFWC.com Top 100 Players in the World Invitational champion.

One of the imposing uncertainties facing fantasy owners in 2019 is to how to approach the contract dispute between the Los Angeles Chargers and star RB Melvin Gordon. Many fantasy owners are gun shy to invest a high draft pick in Gordon. The fear is this situation could end up similar to what happened with Le’Veon Bell in 2018. He sat out the entire season while a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers—burning his fantasy owners who invested in him. The 26-year-old Gordon has consistently been a top-six running back in fantasy football over the past three seasons. As mentioned in other articles, it's important to note that if we exclude quarterbacks from top rankings, the top-five fantasy scorers in PPR formats last season were all running backs.  

When it is your turn to pick, selecting well-rounded backs are critical to your fantasy success. Gordon fits that player portfolio supremely. If you are looking for production, it's hard to argue against drafting Gordon, as he has found the endzone 38 times in his last 41 games. Those touchdown numbers, combined with his nearly 50 catches per season and his clear RB1 workload, make Gordon a natural first-round candidate among the top-10 players off the draft board.  

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However, when on the clock I advise passing on Gordon for not only the first 12 picks but for the entire opening three rounds of all drafts. I will admit I was one of the owners who was burned by Bell last season and I feel that contentious situation will repeat itself once again in 2019. The Chargers have sufficient roster depth at the running back position with both the versatile Austin Ekeler and the powerful Justin Jackson. Ekeler has filled in admirably over the past two seasons as Gordon has had issues staying healthy missing anywhere from two to four games due to various injuries.  Ekeler grabbed 53 passes and scored six touchdowns last season, and he is the player to be targeting in the middle rounds of all PPR drafts. Jackson could still offer value but his current ADP (119), according to the High Stakes Advanced Draft analytics over at Fulltime Fantasy Sports, is too high. I prefer investing in Jackson only after the 11th round (beyond pick No. 132). To explain: While Ekeler offers excellent value in PPR drafts, whether or not Gordon is back for a full 2019 campaign, Jackson's value would take an extreme hit if Gordon reports. 

Fantasy owners can not afford to swing-and-miss on players they select in the first few rounds. Taking a chance on Gordon playing in Week 1 involves just way too much risk when real money is on the line. 

The Chargers hold all the bargaining power in this stalemate, and with their contentment in their current stable of running backs, it appears both sides are willing to dig-in, long and hard. If Gordon were to fall to the fourth round or later, then you should jump on board. That's a big fall, so it may not ever play out that way.

I ascribe to the philosophy of drafting elite running backs with bell-cow expectancy in the first several rounds. Unless we receive word that Gordon will be reporting, which I don't expect, then I will be leaving the risk of investing a high pick on Gordon to my league competitors. 

 

Shawn Childs: Shawn Childs has over $300K in lifetime career earnings in high-stakes contests against the top players in the fantasy world at the Fantasy Football World Championships powered by FullTime Fantasy.

As Frankie notes above, Le’Veon Bell’s 2018 holdout left a glaring hole in many fantasy owners’ wallets, which is now directly related to the draft value of Melvin Gordon this season.

Bell was a top-three pick for almost the whole draft season until the final draft weekend, when it became apparent that he wasn't going to show up for Week 1 of the season. The talk on the street was that he would miss three games, but his downside pointed to 10 missed games or a lost season.

The Chargers owe Gordon $5.6 million, with the running back one year away from free agency in 2020. His lower salary does point to a lengthy holdout, as the risk/reward favors him being healthy for his next deal. L.A. has talent at RB on the roster, which puts them in a better position to wait before working out a new contact.

With no communication or press coming out of the Chargers’ camp about the direction of this impasse, fantasy owners have taken the high road in recent drafts leading to Gordon falling to the fourth round in some high-stakes leagues.

I understand the reasons why to avoid, but at some point, the reward outweighs the risk.

Fantasy owners play in all different kinds of fantasy leagues against a wide range of fantasy owners. In a home league format vs. less knowledgeable owners, Gordon could be bought at a discount, and a fantasy owner could very well find enough talent to finish their roster with upside at the RB position after the fourth round of 12-team leagues.

In the high-stakes market, bankroll and risk tolerance tends to dictate where Gordon will get drafted.

For an owner with one team, it makes no sense to invest a high draft pick on a player when the other options in the player pool could offer similar value. But if Gordon slides, the thought process can change dramatically.

Fantasy owners have three different options to plan for Melvin Gordon in 2019.

Avoidance

The first and easiest option is to avoid Gordon altogether. This type of draft strategy requires a fantasy owner to keep his or her head down with his eyes on executing the plan. Just cross Gordon’s name off and don’t give him a second thought no matter how far he falls.

The key to this idea is drafting at least one RB with your first two draft picks, which will help remove temptation if the draft flow doesn’t go as plan. But if a team starts with two WRs, a fantasy owner will have a tough time saying no to Gordon if he slides to the late third round or later in drafts due to weakness and a significant drop off in the other options at RB.

Value Shopper

No matter what type of fantasy sport a fantasy owner plays in, value shopping is the key to building a winning team. In the football market, a great team may only need eight to nine good draft picks to win a league. The trick is steering clear of the sliding player who has negative news (injury in most cases). In this case, Gordon doesn’t have an injury, but he is at risk of missing time. During your draft, his reward is going to exceed the risk. If he falls in drafts and ends up signing, a fantasy owner is going to have a first-round caliber player with a heavily discounted price. In essence, a fantasy owner is looking to gain an edge while knowing that his or her other RB depth won't create a hole in their starting lineup.

In 2018, Gordon scored 275.50 fantasy points in PPR leagues in his 13 games played. If he played a full season, Gordon was on pace to outscore Ezekiel Elliott (fifth-ranked RB). Over the first three rounds of 12-team fantasy drafts in 2019, there is a good chance that 19 RBs will be drafted. Last year, the RB19 scored 193.60 Fantasy points. The home run drafter will see the edge by adding the discounted player.

Also, a fantasy owner could find a RB later in the fifth or sixth round to deliver close to 180 points, which would only be a minor drop from the possible chances at RB in the late third or early fourth rounds of drafts.

Hidden in this decision is the potential upside of the other options at RB. When debating a Josh Jacobs vs. Melvin Gordon, a fantasy owner could see/hope for a possible breakout season which does skew our thoughts when making these types of decisions. At the same time, the other options at RB could also get hurt, which is very common each fantasy season at RB.

Buy the Chargers Handcuffs

The last direction a fantasy owner could take in the Gordon decision is drafting his top two handcuffs (Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson). In this case, fantasy owners will also use the success of James Conner in 2018 as the reference of upside.

The question here comes with the actual value of each player on both sides of the fence. Can Ekeler truly become the workhorse RB in the Chargers’ offense? If not, what is his expected opportunity if Gordon doesn’t return for this season? The downside here is the missed RB available at the same time as the decision within the draft.

As of now, I expect Ekeler to get drafted in the sixth round in PPR leagues in the high-stakes market. If I happen to roster Gordon early in the fourth round, I could target Ekeler in the sixth round. Last year Ekeler finished as the 25th highest-scoring RB in PPR leagues with 163.50 fantasy points. The combination of both players delivered more than 430 fantasy points, which is line with a fourth- and sixth-round RB in most seasons.

In the case of Jackson, it comes down to paying close attention to L.A.’s training camp news to find out his potential opportunity if Gordon didn’t return. Will Jackson be the lead back while Ekeler is the change of pace back/passing option? In these splits, I tend to gravitate toward the pass-catching RB in PPR leagues.

Best Advice

I won’t draft my high-dollar leagues for a couple of weeks, which helps me gather more information on Gordon. There are two key points to understand here. First, Gordon has a discount priced into his 2019 draft value while fantasy owner basically paid full price for Bell last year. Second, the Chargers know how the Bell situation turned out last year. This information will help them be better prepared to get through this situation. Gordon wasn’t going to see much action in the preseason, so any missed time shouldn’t be a factor in his opportunity in 2019.

I’m approaching Gordon this way in mid-August. If I have a late draft pick, I’m going to be open to adding to him to my roster while then making a play for Ekeler in the 5/6 turn. Depending on my draft slot, I don‘t want to finesse him on a tight turn. In other words, if I added Gordon from pick 11 on the 3/4 turn, I need to secure Ekeler in the second-to-last pick in the fifth round as I don’t want to be sniped by the 12th team in the league.

I don't envision targeting Justin Jackson if I own Gordon. I expect him to be overdrafted. If someone did beat me to Ekeler, I do need to protect my early-round asset by knowing about where Jackson gets drafted.

The next task is staying on top of the Gordon news, as any hint that he will sign before the season will create a better buying opportunity.

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