NFL Free Agency Fantasy Fallout: Melvin Gordon signs with Broncos, creates even bigger logjam for touches

Melvin Gordon became a free agent this offseason after five seasons with the Chargers, but the market he was hoping for never seemed to develop. The three-time top-eight PPR running back is now headed across the division in a curious move, joining a Broncos team that appeared set at running back. 

For three straight seasons from 2016 to 2018, Gordon finished with at least 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns each year. He held out to begin 2019, but still finished with 908 yards from scrimmage and nine scores in 12 games. At 26, Gordon’s not particularly old, and his production record suggests he still has plenty in the tank even if he’s never been a particularly efficient back. 

But therein lies a major problem, because the Chargers’ offense over the past several seasons has been extremely Fantasy-friendly for running backs. Always among the league leaders in high-value touches (including leading the league in 2019), the Philip Rivers-led Chargers racked up running back receptions and green-zone touches, the two most valuable types of touches for Fantasy production.

Denver was also among the league leaders in that category in 2019, but a big part of that was the influence of Joe Flacco, who along with Rivers is another immobile quarterback who has targeted the position at a high rate. Drew Lock, for his part, also threw to his backs a decent amount down the stretch. 

But the Broncos will almost certainly generate fewer green-zone touches than the Chargers’ offense has in recent seasons, and it’s hard to imagine the same number of receptions will be there. Add in that Gordon is joining a backfield with two good, young backs in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, and it’s not just the high-value touches but the overall snaps and total touches that should decline precipitously for Gordon in Denver. 

Still, Lindsay was phased out of the passing-downs work last year in favor of Freeman, and really struggled in that area when used. 

New Broncos’ offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has been Fantasy-friendly for running backs throughout his coaching career, and Gordon should be on the more valuable side of a split if his prior receiving success locks him into the passing downs work. 

But good offenses generate more plays, touches and scoring opportunities for their backs, and we don’t yet have enough info on Lock at the NFL level to expect the Broncos to be good. In fact, any ranking of the starting quarterbacks heading into 2020 would likely include Lock near the bottom, which suggests the range of outcomes for this offense is largely on the below average side of the scale.

So this is an overall downgrade for Gordon, and it’s a huge knock for the values of both Lindsay and Freeman, the latter of whom is now virtually undraftable. The 2020 offseason has thus far been full of moves that seem mostly positive for Fantasy, but this one is a major head-scratcher, and it will be very hard to find optimism in a bad offense’s committee in 2020. 

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