The Melvin Gordon Holdout in Fantasy Football

Melvin Gordon
CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 22: Melvin Gordon #28 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs on a pass play during the second half of a game against the Baltimore Ravens at StubHub Center on December 22, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Prior to training camp, Melvin Gordon was a consensus top-six running back in fantasy football. The Los Angeles Chargers stud had control of the backfield in a high-powered offense with a proven track record of success. All signs pointed towards him being an RB1 with the potential to finish atop the running back rankings.

However, that all changed in the weeks leading up to training camp. Gordon publicly announced he was holding out of training camp and demanded a trade if he couldn’t reach terms with the Chargers. Both sides appear to be far away in talks, and there’s a growing sense that Gordon’s holdout will continue into the regular season. Gordon’s a borderline top-five running back when playing, but how does the holdout affect his fantasy stock and where you should take him in your draft?

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Possible Trade Scenarios

We’ve already analyzed how good Gordon can be when he’s on the field, so let’s not waste too much time marveling over his ideal combination of talent and opportunity. Instead, let’s focus on when Gordon can get back on the field and how that affects his value.

Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a likely landing spot for Melvin Gordon. The Chargers already said that they won’t give him away for free, so they’ll need to get something of value in return. Unfortunately for everyone involved, running backs simply don’t matter in today’s NFL. Gordon’s a talented player, so it’s possible that a team would give up a decent draft pick or a big contract for his services. However, it’s incredibly unlikely that a team give up both.

Even if the cost wasn’t an issue, not too many teams are in need of a running back right now. The Houston Texans filled their running back need by acquiring Duke Johnson, leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the only team with a glaring hole at the running back position. Only having one legitimate suitor is bad enough, but head coach Bruce Arians basically came out and said that he doesn’t place great value on the position. Barring something completely unforeseen, Melvin Gordon isn’t going anywhere.

When Will Melvin Gordon Report?

The Los Angeles Chargers will probably own Gordon’s contract rights in 2019, but that doesn’t mean Gordon will show up once the season begins. Memories of Le’Veon Bell are still fresh in everyone’s head, so some fantasy owners could take Gordon entirely off their boards for fear of a similar situation.

However, there are differences between Bell and Gordon. Gordon is still under his rookie contract, whereas Bell would have spent 2018 under the franchise tag. Bell had the option to simply sit out the season and hit unrestricted free agency in 2019. That’s not the case for Gordon, as he’ll need to accrue an additional season before escaping the terms of his rookie deal.

I am not a contract expert, nor have I ever read the fine print of Gordon’s contract. However, according to all available information, it sounds like Gordon needs to report to the team by November 29th. Assuming he plays every game upon his return, Gordon would start the final five games of the season. Five starts is bad for fantasy football, but there are reasons to believe he’ll return earlier than that.

Why Gordon Could Return Earlier

With Gordon off the field, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will see the majority of the work. The Chargers are in win-now mode with an aging Philip Rivers, and they’ll bite the bullet and pay up if Ekeler and Jackson aren’t capable of carrying the load. If that happens, you’ll probably get about 12-13 games of a happy Melvin Gordon.

Recent analytic studies suggest that Ekeler and Jackson are more than capable of handling Gordon’s job, simply because running backs don’t have that much to do with actual rushing success. If that’s the case, Gordon may actually be hurting his value by sitting out. James Conner filled in seamlessly for Le’Veon Bell, and that’s part of the reason Bell didn’t receive as much money as he wanted. Ekeler and Jackson are good backs, so Gordon’s best way to a paycheck could be by returning to the field and reminding everyone just how good he is.

As of this posting, Fantasy Football Calculator has Gordon going off the board with the 23rd pick in standard-scoring formats. This is probably a little too early considering the risk, but it has the chance to be a fantastic value. At this point, it’s more likely than not that Gordon is going to miss a couple of games. However, he’ll be back for a minimum of five and could easily play 12-13. Taking him in the second over a player with RB1 upside like Kerryon Johnson is risky, but if he’s there in the mid- to late-third, you’ve got to grab him. The upside is worth the risk.

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