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Fantasy football draft season is upon us and RotoBaller is here to help! In this series, two RotoBaller experts will discuss the merits of two players with similar value and average draft position (ADP). Remember that situations will change for all players over the course of the summer and it may impact where they are selected in drafts.

This article comes from staff writers Dominick Petrillo and Taylor Maxston who compare two running backs in standard formats with ADPs that fall around the end of the first round.

Dominick argues in favor of last season’s RB-5 in Los Angeles Chargers workhorse Melvin Gordon, while Taylor advocates for a player who took over the lion’s share of carries in his team’s backfield as a rookie (finishing as the RB-8 in standard scoring) in Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette.

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Opening Statements: Who Do You Draft?

Melvin Gordon is the Engine that Runs the Chargers Offense – Dominick Petrillo

The Los Angeles Chargers are a popular sleeper pick to make the Super Bowl in 2018. If this is going to happen, it won't be just because of their great young defense, but also because of the prolific offense. While Philip Rivers is going to have a wonderful season with weapons like Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the engine which will make the hype train continue is Melvin Gordon. With everyone writing him off after his less than stellar rookie season, Melvin Gordon showed out in 2016 to come up just short of the 1,000-yard mark with 997 yards in 13 games. While coming up short in the 2016 season, he also showed his ability to be a pass-catching back and a touchdown maker in both the passing game and the running game. He showed much of the same in 2017, finishing with 1,105 yards and eight rushing touchdowns on 284 carries. While carrying the ball an impressive 284 times he also caught 58 receptions for 476 yards and four additional touchdowns on 83 targets out of the backfield.

Having a running back get so much work out of the backfield is a rarity in today's NFL. In a time where committees such as those in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New England seem to be turning into the norm, Gordon is one of the few running backs whom we can still consider a bell cow. While there are a few out there who get the rushing work of Gordon, not many also get the amount of receiving work to bolster their stats even more. The few who do in David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell are the elite backs in the game and it is about time we added Melvin Gordon to their ranks by the end of this season. Going as the ninth pick in fantasy drafts, he is a safer play than some of those who are currently going higher than him. While a player like Leonard Fournette will have the rushing attempts to match, he is not a receiving back and his injury questions make him more of a risk along with rookie Saquon Barkley whom, although supposedly great is unproven.

Leonard Fournette Puts the “Feature” in Feature Back – Taylor Maxston

While the Jacksonville Jaguars offense as a whole won’t necessarily be inspiring fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators, their bell cow running back is one name that they won’t look forward to having to face on Sunday. Leonard Fournette put the “feature” in feature back during his rookie campaign en route to averaging an impressive 23.4 touches per game as the head of the Jaguars backfield. Despite missing three games last season, he was one of just six rushers to top 300 touches and tied for third at the position in rushing scores. While impressive, his RB-8 finish certainly could have been higher if an ankle injury hadn’t caused him to miss time in the middle of the season.

Volume is king in standard formats and there is little doubt that Fournette is a candidate for reaching the 300-touch mark once again while potentially leading the league in carries if he can stay on the field. The Jacksonville Jaguars are committed to pounding the rock and repeating on their league-leading rushing yards per game rank from 2017, as evidenced by them signing an elite guard in Andrew Norwell to improve an offensive line that Pro Football Focus has currently ranked as a top-15 unit compared to the Los Angeles Chargers 23rd ranked group. If quarterback Blake Bortles can continue his competent play from late last season where he averaged 288.6 passing yards per game over his last five contests, Fournette should face some lighter defensive fronts as he works towards a top-10 fantasy finish.

 

Rebuttals: Why Take One Over the Other?

Melvin Gordon’s Reception Upside Puts Him Above Leonard Fournette – Dominick Petrillo

With the health of Melvin Gordon not being nearly the concern level of Leonard Fournette, who has not been healthy since high school, the floor of Gordon far outweighs that of Fournette. While they both will get close to, if not break the 300-carry threshold, Gordon will get another 50 to 60 touches on top of this in the pass game while Fournette will acquiesce the passing down role to T.J. Yeldon in Jacksonville. With the additional points garnered by the reception itself and the receiving yards as well as the additional touchdown potential that comes with it, Gordon will finish higher in the fantasy running back rankings this season much like he did in 2017. Both Gordon and Fournette finished with an identical 3.9 Y/A average meaning given the same workload, the only separation in the two are those reception totals which go as we said the way of Gordon for more upside. With this said, seeing they are only going one pick apart if you have the eighth or ninth pick in the draft, even higher in some leagues, Melvin Gordon should clearly be the choice.

Leonard Fournette Will Outperform Melvin Gordon if They Play in the Same Number of Games – Taylor Maxston

Deciding between Melvin Gordon and Leonard Fournette in standard leagues is quite literally an exercise in splitting hairs. While Gordon’s receiving ability is certainly helpful, it doesn’t necessarily have as much value as it would in PPR formats. In fact, speaking strictly in terms of rushing ability, Fournette averaged more attempts per game (20.6 to 17.8) and rushing yards per game (80.0 to 69.1) than Gordon did last season. The only reason why Fournette finished three spots behind Gordon in standard leagues was his missed time due to an ankle injury, as extrapolating his 14 fantasy point per game average out over the weeks he didn’t play would have landed him in the top-five for fantasy running backs.

Although Fournette’s foot and ankle issues are concerning, the sophomore running back is clearly taking steps to help avoid re-injury by dropping weight this offseason. Gordon has also dealt with his fair share of lower body injuries in his career and, according to SportsInjuryPredictor.com, has nearly the same chance of aggravating an injury in 2018 as Fournette. With the Jacksonville Jaguars bringing back the pieces from the second-best overall defense in yards allowed per game that helped translate to the fifth-best time of possession last season, expect Fournette to receive the workload and score the touchdowns that fantasy owners crave.

 

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