If you play dynasty fantasy football, the Super Bowl is bittersweet regardless of which team you root for in the game, if any. The Super Bowl marks the sensational culmination of the NFL season, but it’s also a stark reminder of the end of football for seven long months. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop trading in dynasty leagues. In fact, the early offseason may be the best time to capitalize on selling players who out-performed expectations last season while those performances are still fresh in the minds of fellow owners.
One such player I’d look to part ways with this offseason is Melvin Gordon, particularly in PPR formats.
Gordon had a phenomenal season and was a top-5 running back in PPR, but let’s take a closer look. Gordon was on fire to start the season, averaging 19.3 fantasy points per game (PPG) in PPR formats for the first eight games. Much of this was due to his usage as a true workhorse running back, averaging 16.4 rushing attempts per game as well as 3.8 receptions per game.
A lot changed during the Week 10 game at Jacksonville when Austin Ekeler showcased his talent, breaking out with five catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns against a Jaguars defense that had mostly shut down Gordon. The Chargers began utilizing Ekeler more at that point in the season, particularly as a pass-catcher.
Starting with Week 10 at Jacksonville, Gordon averaged 13.0 PPR fantasy PPG for the five games where Ekeler was healthy and saw more touches. During this time, Gordon’s rushing usage remained strong, still averaging 19.6 rushing attempts per game. However, his receptions per game dipped from 3.8 to 2.6. While this may not seem like a large decrease, his fantasy PPG from receiving dipped from 9.7 to 4.0.
Many fantasy players may have forgotten about this down stretch of games for Gordon because Ekeler broke his left hand during the Week 15 game at Kansas City, allowing Gordon to resume his usage as a workhorse running back. The last three games of the season after Ekeler was hurt early in the game against the Chiefs, Gordon finished very strongly, averaging 23.0 PPR fantasy PPG.
During these games, Gordon’s receptions per game bounced back from 2.6 to 5.0, and his fantasy PPG from receiving shot up again from 4.0 to 10.6, likely helping his owners who had made the fantasy playoffs to victory. I’ve summarized these splits in the chart below, and you can see the dangerous dip in fantasy PPG highlighted in red during Weeks 10 through 14 when Ekeler played a bigger role in the Los Angeles offense:
That said, even if Gordon had averaged the “low” 13.0 fantasy PPG for the entire 2017 season as he did during Weeks 10 through 14, he still would’ve finished as the RB12 in PPR with 207.7 points. That’s not bad, but in 2017 that would’ve put Gordon closer to the likes of Jordan Howard and Lamar Miller than where he actually finished, in the company of running backs Kareem Hunt and Mark Ingram.
Of course, statistics show trends and not necessarily the entire picture. For example, it should be noted that Gordon’s low average of 2.6 receptions per game during Weeks 10 through 14 includes a zero-catch outing in Week 11. This game was the 54-24 blowout of the Nathan Peterman-led Bills in which the Chargers led comfortably for most of the game and didn’t need to do much in the passing game or on offense in general.
It should also be noted that Gordon had a career-high four receiving touchdowns in 2017, all of which came in the first six games of the season. Before last season, he had scored only two receiving touchdowns in 2016 and none in 2015. Of course, touchdowns can be fluky, but the presence of Ekeler as a pass catcher will likely reduce the frequency with which Gordon scores through the air.
So what does all this mean for 2018?
Despite Ekeler’s involvement in the offense, Gordon will remain the lead back in Los Angeles and play a large role. He’s still fairly young and will only be 25 years old at the start of next season, and while Gordon may not have Todd Gurley’s inhuman acceleration or Alvin Kamara’s supernal elusiveness, he’s still a very talented running back in what should be a good offense.
Overall, I would expect Gordon to finish the 2018 season as more of a back-end RB1 in PPR leagues than the elite top-5 running back he was in 2017. In fact, it could be argued that Gordon may not have even finished as high as he did were it not for an injury to David Johnson and a suspension for Ezekiel Elliott. While I certainly wouldn’t panic about Gordon, I would look to sell if other owners in your dynasty league value him as an elite, high-end RB1. I’d be worried about Gordon’s usage and production with a healthy Ekeler splitting touches in 2018.