BRONCOS

There’s nothing better than a comeback story, and Melvin Gordon could write an all-timer

Oct 4, 2022, 8:30 AM
Melvin Gordon III...
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

In the NFL, kicking someone when they’re down is as much of a sport as football itself.

One need only turn on the radio, cue up a podcast or log on to social media to experience this in action with Melvin Gordon since his fourth fumble of the season Sunday.

But there’s one thing people love more than that:

A comeback story.

And thanks to Williams’ injury, he will likely get the opportunity to author it.

***

NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP

Start here: It can’t get worse.

Consider this: It has been 21 years since a running back, fullback or wide receiver had four fumbles in the first four games — and did so with as few touches as the 45 Gordon has so far this season, per data compiled from pro-football-reference.com.

Last year, Gordon had three fumbles — and the third didn’t come until his 231st and final touch of the campaign.

That fumble came on the same day as a 47-yard touchdown sprint and his third 100-yard game of the season. Those accomplishments serve as a reminder of why Gordon offers hope, despite the fumbles.

Gordon’s previous two Broncos seasons saw the second- and third-highest per-carry averages of his career. In terms of navigating through tight spaces, he’s strengthened as he approaches his 30th birthday next April.

Gordon remains a highly effective runner — as long as he doesn’t lose the football.

That’s the big “if,” of course.

There is a strange freedom to where Gordon sits now. For one thing, the fumbling trend cannot get worse than five fumbles in five games. Had Javonte Williams not been injured, it’s unlikely he would been in position for it to become six in six.

But Williams’ season is now over. And as a result, Gordon could get chances that might not have come his way under normal circumstances, the type that usually only come in baseball, with its trust of the broad sample size the sport provides.

***

THE NUMBERS BEHIND IT

If Gordon’s ball security ascends to even what his normal rate was before this ghastly opening four games of 2022, he could be poised to author one of the greatest comebacks in Broncos history.

Gordon’s fumble rate this year is ghastly: one every 11.3 touches. In the previous two seasons as a Bronco was one every 68.3. That was not great, but not backbreaking, either.

The league average among players with at least 100 total touches on returns and offense since 2020 is one every 81.6 touches. Among those 222 players, 28 have worse fumble rates than Gordon’s in that span (1 every 47.5 touches).

Some of those players include:

  • San Francisco WR Deebo Samuel, 1 fumble every 35.2 touches
  • Cincinnati WR Ja’Marr Chase, 1 fumble every 38.7 touches
  • Kansas City WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 1 fumble every 26.8 touches
  • Denver WR Jerry Jeudy, 1 fumble every 34.7 touches

Yes, Gordon doesn’t even have the worst fumble rate on the Broncos over the last three years.

And before this season, his 2020-21 rate of one fumble every 68.3 touches was worse than average, but better than 74 players of the afore-mentioned 222.

Gordon is in a slump. But the statistical likelihood is that he will ascend closer to his mean — if not of his career rate of one fumble every 88 touches, which he had prior to Week 18 of last season, then certainly to his rate as a Bronco.

And if that happens, the rest of Gordon’s game is intact.

Even on the doomed run Sunday, that was apparent. He hit the gap quickly and knifed through contact. And as mentioned in a previous piece, he remains an effective short-yardage, goal-to-go runner.

The chances will be there.

***

BUT FOR HOW LONG?

Gordon isn’t the only mid-to-late-career veteran RB in the room anymore.

The Broncos signed Latavius Murray from New Orleans’ practice squad Monday. There are precious few 32-year-old running backs rambling about pro football these days. Murray’s status as one of them demonstrates his professional survival skills.

But Murray will have to get up to speed first.

In the meantime, Gordon will have more chances. And an opportunity to give Broncos Country the thing it loves more than anger — the chance to witness redemption.

Comeback Player of the Year? If Gordon ascends to his mean when it comes to ball security, there’s no reason why he can’t make it happen.

***

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There’s nothing better than a comeback story, and Melvin Gordon could write an all-timer