Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers — Michael Bennett. Ron Dayne. Montee Ball. All of these guys put up massive statistics as the lead running back while at the University of Wisconsin, and all of them fell drastically short of expectations in the NFL. While it’s still very early in his career, it doesn’t quite look like Melvin Gordon is going to buck that trend. Gordon is a runner who needs a clean hole to make his play; he might’ve been able to get that behind the Badgers perennially able-bodied offensive lines, but that’s rarely the case in the NFL. At least as of yet, he hasn’t shown the patience and vision needed to find running lanes in the much-tighter spaces at the pro level. His 3.5 yards per carry last season was second worst among running backs who logged more than 100 carries, and of the 41 running backs who logged at least 111 carries last season, Gordon was the only one who failed to score a rushing touchdown (he didn’t score a touchdown of any nature last season). His confidence was reportedly shot for long stretches of last season, which is a huge part of any NFL player’s success. On a team that’s demonstratively pass-first, and with options like Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead available to take carries, I don’t know if I would put any eggs in Gordon’s basket.
Matt Jones, Washington Redskins — For those of you who might’ve watched the Redskins 2016 preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, you should’ve come away with one obvious conclusion: Matt Jones — and the Redskins running game in general — continues to look totally uninspiring. After his Week 2 outburst against the Rams — when he looked like the second coming of Marshawn Lynch, rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries — Jones ran for 339 yards on 119 carries (averaging a meager 2.84 yards per carry) and only one touchdown over the next 11 games. He ran for less than 30 yards in seven of those 11 games. Pro Foobtall Focus found that Le’Veon Bell averaged more yards after contact than Matt Jones averaged yards per carry (3.4). Washington’s runners collectively averaged 3.7 yards per carry last season — tied for third worst in the NFL — while coughing up the football 11 times (tied for second most in the NFL). Jones was a major contributor to this stat, as he tied for second in the NFL with five fumbles (losing four of them). He’s being taken among the top 25 running backs in standard scoring leagues, putting him in firm RB3 category, but I absolutely wouldn’t trust him even as a weekly flex play.
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders — It shouldn’t give you a lot of confidence when a running back is basically the starter by default — because his team really doesn’t have any other options — rather than being the guy the staff really believes in. But that’s basically what Latavius Murray is (as of right now, at least); the Raiders proved that by handing the ball 266 times to Murray last season, giving him the third most carries of any NFL running back last season. Murray “repaid” that confidence with only two games of 100+ rushing yards last season; by comparison, Todd Gurley had five games with 100+ rushing yards, despite receiving 37 less carries than Murray. Over the Raiders last eight games of 2015, Murray ran for a total of 431 yards and three rushing touchdowns, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry. Pro Football Focus ranked Murray 53rd of 90 running backs in points per opportunity. With quarterback Derek Carr throwing to weapons like Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and tight end Clive Walford, Oakland is likely to be more of a pass-first team moving forward. Plus, the Raiders are very high on rookie running back DeAndre Washington, their fifth round pick out of Texas Tech; it wouldn’t be any surprise to see Washington cut into Murray’s workload this season. Murray looks to be a marginal RB2 next season as a best-case scenario.