Melvin Gordon arrives in Denver with promise and underlying questions.
Is he the player who earned two Pro Bowl berths in 2016 and 2018 or a running back losing traction after an ill-advised holdout?
Gordon, who turns 27 next month, aims to silence critics. Forget a chip on his shoulder, the entire can of Pringles rests on his shoulder pads.
"It’s huge. I think a lot of people doubt my talent as a back. During my holdout, a lot of people were saying, 'He’s an average back.' I didn’t have my center, my left tackle, and we had guys hurt. Nobody cares about that. Nor should they. Some players (when players are hurt around them) people give them that excuse. You have players in my position, but now they think I am an average," Gordon said on a Friday conference call. "I am going to use that as fuel. I am going to show that I am better than average."
The Broncos need Flashes of lightning, not flickers of a 40-watt bulb. Denver ranked 20th in rushing last season at 103.9 yards per game. Gordon brings unique talent, not requiring Waze to find the end zone. He boasts 47 scores over the past four seasons. He also ranks second over the past two years in yards against eight-man boxes. That cannot be overstated for a team that has struggled in short-yard situations.
"That just comes down to a mentality. My college coach always told me, that's all about will. You have to be able to get that or they will find someone who will," Gordon said. "It's a mindset. I treat third down like fourth down."
A question on many minds is how Gordon will fit with starter Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos signed Gordon to a two-year, $16-million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed. He projects to take the bulk of the carries. Counting Lindsay out, however, is a slippery slope -- he has "undrafted" tattooed on his chest as a reminder of overcoming his underdog status. Lindsay hoped for a contract extension this offseason, something general manager John Elway said he would consider after the draft. Lindsay has certainly earned a raise after posting back-to-back seasons in his first two years.
Above all, Lindsay has preached the importance of being a good teammate, and followed suit with Gordon.
"He said (in a text), 'What good bro? This is Phil. We are going to have a great season. Can’t wait to push each other.' I think he’s great with everything. He’s trying to help the team as best as possible. Same with me," Gordon said. "You only hear great things about Denver. I know how great the fan base is. I like the scheme. I like the way the offensive linemen get to the second level. I thought it was a great way for me to start out fresh. (Lindsay) is a great back. I have watched him close. I think we can be a great one-two punch. Me and Austin (Ekeler) were one of the better tandems in the league. I know people wondering what is his position with getting carries? Right now it’s about winning football games."
Gordon averaged 50 receptions over the past three seasons. He is a three-down back. But last year created doubt, fair or not. After averaging a career-best 5.1 yards per carry in 2018, Gordon fell to 3.8 a year ago. He only played in 12 games because of his holdout. He lost faith of the Chargers, who invested in Ekeler this offseason (four-year, $24.5 million with $15 million guaranteed). Gordon admitted Friday he would not hold out if he had to do it over.
"I definitely felt like I ruined some relationships," Gordon said. "You try to put that aside and give it your all. That's what I tried to do. I felt some tension walking around. I tried my best to keep a smile on my face."
It's not a coincidence that Gordon signed with the Broncos, who "had a sea of orange" fans when playing in California. He looks forward to facing the Chargers twice a year. And the Broncos results in those games could help determine if they snap their four-year playoff drought.
"It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be electric. There’s going to be a lot of trash talk," Gordon said. "They're going to let me hear it and I’m going to let them hear it.”