The Los Angeles Chargers are heading into the 2018 season with a very narrow array of weapons. Earlier this offseason, we discussed the big-time potential of rising star tight end Hunter Henry, and what he could have accomplished following the retirement of all-time great Antonio Gates. But Henry tore his ACL in the chargers’ organized team activities, which changed the outlook for the entire offense.
Henry was supposed to be the go-to target in the red zone. The guy Phillip Rivers would look to, when he needed a big target from in close. Following the injury to Henry, the focus of many NFL analyst naturally shifted toward Keenan Allen to be an even bigger factor for the team. While that is almost a certainty, it’s also important to consider several issues with that theory. First, Allen has had such an extensive history with injuries in his own right. It’s not a given that he will even play a full 16-game slate, considering how many times he has missed games, as well as endured significant injuries. But even if he remains healthy, the Chargers opponents are well aware that he is by far their best receiver, and he should consequently receive a lot of attention from defensive backs.
Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon has been a very solid running back in his first three seasons in the NFL. His numbers have improved every single year, and his role in the passing game has increased as well. None of that is a coincidence of course, as the Chargers recognize his abilities and value to the team. Gordon has had 12 total touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, and that number could easily rise in 2018.
Aside from the fact that Chargers coaches have indicated Gordon should see an even bigger role in the passing attack, the team improved their offensive line this offseason, after it had already begun to gel as a unit toward the latter half of the 2017 campaign. The biggest offseason addition was the team’s signing of center Mike Pouncey, who should be the catalyst of the offensive line. Gordon will obviously benefit from having better play up front.
The Chargers have already made it a point to emphasize Gordon at the goal line in the past. Last season, Gordon received the fourth most carries from inside the opponents’ ten yard line, and he was ranked sixth in terms of the number of carries from within the opposing five-yard line. Both of those numbers clearly show the team’s commitment to feeding Gordon as much as possible when they get into scoring position.
And now, without both Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, there is every reason to believe that Gordon will become the focal point of the Chargers’ red zone weapons. Keenan Allen will get his of course, but Gordon could easily eclipse 15 touchdowns on the year. Rivers and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will find ways to put him in the best position to succeed. Whether they do that by calling specific plays for him as a receiver, or checking into ideal running plays, they will certainly look his way as much as they possibly can.
If he stays healthy, Gordon should have his best season of his career. And that is a big deal, considering he combined for 1,581 total yards last year (1,105 rushing, 476 receiving). Look for Gordon to be one of the best overall running backs in the NFL in 2018.