With the majority of the AFC teams kicking off their second full week of training camp, the main focus for 15 of the 16 teams in the conference is dethroning the defending champion, New England Patriots. With star players moving teams (LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, Frank Clark and Earl Thomas), and a star player in middle of a holdout (Melvin Gordon), the 2019 AFC race is getting more interesting by the day.
So let’s take a look at some of the key things to watch in the AFC in the upcoming season in the next couple of articles. The second article in the series is about the Los Angeles Chargers. How much will Gordon’s potential lengthy holdout hurt the Chargers Super Bowl chances?
Melvin Gordon has been one of the best running back’s in the NFL since the day he was drafted in 2015. Besides being one of the fastest backs in the league, Melvin is also one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler, and with averaging around 17 carries a game for his career, doesn’t have as much wear and tear as other players at his position.
The problem for the Chargers is that Gordon wants a new contract and the $10 million per season that the team is offering is not enough. Melvin has only one full 16 game season in his Los Angeles career, and he has only hit the 1,000 rushing yard mark once. The team is 26-29 when he has been on the field and he only has 55 total rushing yards in two career playoff games. He didn’t have one game last season where he had 20 or more carries and didn’t have a 100 yard rushing game after week 8. These numbers don’t exactly say he’s worth $13-15 million dollar per season.
Gordon has done better when he has another running back taking some of the load off his shoulders. In Los Angeles, they have Austin Ekeler as his backup, and he is very productive when he’s in the game. He gets around 7 carries a game and averages more than 5 yards per carry. Ekeler is also one of the better pass catchers that quarterback Phillip Rivers has at his disposal. The problem with Austin is that he’s a better change of pace back than he is being an every down back. Because he’s a diverse option, Ekeler is better in the 3rd down role that he has grown accustomed to. He started 3 games last year when Gordon was out and he rushed for 66, 42 and 21 yards in those games.
Now as of this writing, Gordon has still not reported to camp and still has one year left on his rookie contract. His extended holdout could leave the fifth-year back a bit behind as the season starts in a few weeks, especially when it comes to getting into game shape. But the real question is, will it make a difference?
Los Angeles’s AFC team (The Rams play in the NFC) had one of the best of offensives in the NFL last season. They finished sixth in scoring and 11th in total yards gained in 2018. Even though Tyrell Williams has left for Oakland, Rivers still has Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to lead the wide receiving corps. Hunter Henry, who missed all of last season due to an ACL injury, will return to the tight end position as a much needed weapon to move the ball down the field. With Ekeler and Justin Jackson lead the group of running backs, Los Angeles should be able to score plenty of points with or without Gordon.
Melvin might be a dynamic weapon and one of the best in the league, but with or without him Los Angeles has plenty of weapons on offense and a defense that has two All-Pro’s, an additional Pro Bowler, and a full season of a healthy Joey Bosa. Los Angeles should be a playoff team and could win a game or two in the playoffs, but they would have a better chance in the AFC Championship game with Gordon in uniform.
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