The Sub-Saharan grasslands are native to an appropriately named predator, the boomslang. Boom meaning “tree” and slang defined as “snake,” naturally, this is a tree snake. Measuring anywhere from three to six feet in length, with their trademark gigantic pupils, they pose a considerable risk to researchers in the area as their venom is both slow-acting and lethal. Reports claim their attacks are amongst the least predictable of any animal too.
Yes, you clicked on RazzBall and not NatGeo. You see, the boomslang is more predictable than the Denver Broncos organization. Since 2014, the Mile High football club hasn’t entered a new season with the same head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, and quarterback as the year prior. Chew on that, all you venomous reptiles of the jungle! So let’s predict how Denver will utilize their running backs in 2020.
Enter recently fired New York Giants head coach, Pat Shurmur. This year, Shurmur takes over the offensive play-calling duties bringing his Andy Reid-inspired West Coast offense to Denver. The Drew Lock stans will highlight Coach Shurmur’s historical successes grooming young NFL quarterbacks. At the same time, fantasy managers can expect Lock to throw more in Shurmur’s 11 personnel base set that creates space by spreading out opposing defenses. That would be a nice fantasy win for Lock drafters.
Drew Lock isn’t the only winner in this style shift. Top wide receiver, Courtland Sutton benefits from an increase in passes thrown, but less clear is the spike in fantasy value for the newest Bronco running back, Melvin Gordon. Although fantasy experts differ on his outlook significantly, you can investigate Rudy Gamble’s projections and see how big of a boost he believes Melvin will claim in 2020. I think he is the perfect fit for the system and the alpha within their running back group from day one.
Pat Shurmur’s offenses have typically featured one, bell-cow back. If this happens in Denver, you want that guy, and I think Gordon will be the choice. According to Scott Barrett, over the last 11 seasons, Shurmur’s RB1 averaged over 17 rushes and four targets per game. Similarly, Melvin Gordon has averaged 16 ground attempts, and 5 throws his way from 2016-19. Both of those averages compare favorably to 2019 numbers achieved by Saquon Barkley (17 rushes/5 targets) and Dalvin Cook (18 rushes/5 targets). Quite the company. A whole heck of a lot of opportunity waiting for the taking.
But what about Phillip Lindsay? 2019 was his year to take control of the Broncos ground game, but there was hesitation by the coaching staff to give him the ball. He notched 20 touches just three times all year with no evident competition in the room. Now Denver goes out when no one is paying for running backs and cuts a fat check ($13.5 mil guaranteed) for a sixth-year NFL veteran with a history filled with success. Is it a coincidence the first big move after hiring Pat Shurmur on offense was to make this financial commitment to Melvin Gordon? No.
Furthermore, Phillip Lindsay is more of a home run hitting/change of pace back anyway. Gordon has the build of a prototypical NFL RB1. He has a sturdy base (215 pounds) and a great view of running lanes (6’1” tall). His patience in the backfield sets up blockers, but even when the blocking breaks down, his attacking style makes something out of nothing.
The receiving games of the two Denver RBs are incomparable. Lindsay hasn’t hauled in more than 35 catches in a season to date. At the same time, Melvin’s ability to corral everything thrown near him, then secure the ball, before quickly turning upfield to take on defenders, is vintage! This physicality stands out, as well, when watching him in pass protection. Since Shurmur prefers just a single back in his formations, blitz pickups will be critical to staying on the field. Gordon has the advantage over Lindsay here and just about everywhere else.
Please don’t just skip over Gordon’s receiving skills as Doctor Donkey Teeth did in his Top 20 Running Backs for 2020 article. Thirty-five receptions? Ok, maybe I should take it easy on the guy who brought me on board, but those skills fit supremely within Shurmur’s motion-to-matchup design and Lock’s tendency to find his running backs with throws. The Broncos attempted just the 27th most passes (481 targets) in the league last season, but their 23.3% ratio of throws to running backs ranked 8th. Everyone expects an increase in pure passing attempts this season, and even just a 10-15% boost would bring their total RB passing targets up near the best in the NFL. Great news for the running back with the pass-catching skills, ahem, Melvin Gordon. He’s averaged 65 targets per season during his last four. That receiving floor is what top fantasy running backs use to avoid letdown weeks for their managers.
There you have it. I am predicting the unpredictable. Whether it’s Shurmur’s arrival, a playbook built around a bell-cow, Phillip Lindsay’s inability to seize 2019, the contract dollars, or his knack for turning short catches into big plays, any way you look at Melvin Gordon’s 2020 there is a lot to like. Load up your fouth-round queue now and select Gordon with ease. And don’t forget to exclaim “BOOMSLANG” when you do!