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Chargers

Chargers draft analysis: Melvin Gordon needs a contract extension

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon runs the ball during the second half of an NFL footb
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon was slowed by an assortment of leg injuries in 2018.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 8 of 8: Running backs.

The Chargers played four games without Melvin Gordon last season and won them all, including celebrated victories at Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Those results were a testament to the players who filled in for Gordon — most notably Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson and even undrafted rookie Detrez Newsome — but also a bit of a statistical oddity.

The Chargers averaged only 84 yards rushing in those four wins, a 33-yard-per-game drop from their season standard.

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This offense is no doubt better with Gordon, who was slowed by an assortment of leg injuries in 2018. Various stats put him among the top 10 in the league last season in broken tackles and yards gained after contact.

Rams running back Todd Gurley is the only player with more rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns than Gordon over the last three seasons.

All of which brings us to 2019, the final year of Gordon’s initial NFL contract. Barely three months short of training camp, one of the Chargers’ top offensive weapons is unsigned beyond this season.

The Rams and Gurley were in a similar extension-ready position last year. In late July, they came together on a four-year deal guaranteeing Gurley $45 million.

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The investment paid obvious dividends as Gurley gained 1,251 rushing yards, caught 59 passes and scored 21 touchdowns in the regular season.

But since this is the NFL and nothing is ever quite that obvious, Gurley faded in the playoffs so dramatically that, 10 weeks after the Super Bowl, there’s still confusion about whether or not he’s healthy.

Gurley is slightly more than a year younger than Gordon, who turned 26 this month, and was taken five spots ahead of him in the first round of the 2015 draft.

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Their health histories are similar, Gordon having appeared in all 16 games only once but at least 11 games in each of his four seasons.

General manager Tom Telesco said the team would engage in extension talks with Gordon’s representatives this offseason. Before the summer is over, Gordon could be a decidedly wealthier man.

Under contract for 2019: Melvin Gordon ($5.605 million), Derek Watt ($752,420), Austin Ekeler ($646,668), Troymaine Pope ($645,000), Justin Jackson ($570,000), Detrez Newsome ($570,000).

Free agents: This is one position where the Chargers have been unchanged. They finished last season with six running backs on their roster, and the same six remain. Given the team’s success with undrafted free agents, that could be the route they go this year in looking to add training camp competition.

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Draft: This class is not considered heavy on top running backs. The Chargers have drafted only one pure running back the past three years and that one (Jackson) wasn’t taken until the seventh round in 2018. Watt, a fullback, was drafted in the sixth round two years earlier.

Roster decisions: In their attempt to limit Gordon’s workload, the Chargers will try to use Ekeler as much as possible, a situation that will be influenced by Ekeler’s health a season after he had concussion issues. The team would love for its other young running backs, especially Jackson, to continue to develop in the interest of preserving Gordon.

jeff.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffMillerLAT


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