When you finish 42 yards shy of setting the FBS single-season record for most rushing yards, the bar for success in the NFL is set extremely high.
If Jameis Winston were not entering the 2015 NFL Draft, Melvin Gordon might be the biggest name in this year’s crop of prospects. He rushed for 2,587 yards for Wisconsin last year, averaging a ridiculous 184.8 yards per game. In a game against Nebraska, he hit 408 yards, which stood as an FBS single-game record until Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine broke it a week later.
Gordon’s résumé is eye-popping, and because of it, he is widely expected to be the first running back taken off the board, possibly in the top 10.
As Gordon prepared for the NFL Combine at EXOS San Diego, we linked up with him to talk what it’s like having so much attention, the mental aspect of training and just being himself.
STACK: What’s life been like as a top-tier NFL Prospect?
Melvin Gordon: It’s hard. You got cameras, you got this and that. You can get sidetracked if you allow it to sidetrack you. The guys do a good job of not letting that affect what they do in the weight room or what they do outside.
But you’ve got a lot of eyes on you, especially when you’re a big prospect. Everybody is going to be looking at you and paying attention to what you’re doing. You’ve got to be ready at every cost. Every time you step onto the field or every time you go into the weight room, you’re trying to go 100 percent with everything you do, so when you get out there at the Combine, you’re confident in what you’re doing.
We got some great guys here pushing me every day. I’ve lost a lot of drills. Their times are better than mine. And I’m not used to losing. Those guys are pushing me to the max, and I think that’s what I like most about it.
Has working with Shaq Thompson, another top prospect, helped you push yourself harder?
You knew he was an athlete, it’s just seeing it out on the field—a guy that’s 220 pounds that moves the way he does. It’s almost shocking, a hybrid type of guy.
Everything we do we’re competing. He’s got really good lateral movement. His Shuttle is really fast. I find myself behind sometimes on the drills. His times are a little bit better than mine in some drills. It kind of gets me motivated. I go home sometimes and be like “Man, I gotta get better.”
I’m trying to watch extra film to see what I can fix so when I go out there and compete, I can compete with those guys and stay at it. Shaq has been pushing me, definitely. I try to work with him when I can.
What’s the most important drill for you at the NFL Combine?
The drill that’s important to me most at the Combine would be the 40. That’ll be really big, because everyone just wants to see where you’re at and see how fast you are. I just want to do well on drills. In today’s game, you’ve got to be able to catch the ball, you’ve got be able to be a complete back and do it all. At Wisconsin I didn’t get that many opportunities to catch the ball. When I did, I made plays, but I didn’t get as many opportunities as the other guys. So I just want to catch the ball with confidence and show these coaches that I can be that complete back.
You’ve been working with former NFL fullback Mike Karney. How has he helped you?
He’s been doing a phenomenal job with the drills that we’re prepping for at the Combine and telling us stories and experiences of what he did in the NFL. He’s not only prepping us for the interviews when we get to the Combine, but later on—mini camp and OTAs—he’s prepping us for things like that as well, and that’s why we appreciate him so much. He doesn’t have to do that. He can just come in, do drills, talk a little bit about what they say in the interviews, prep us for that, and then just go home.
How important is training yourself mentally for the next level?
The mental aspect is really big. It was big in college, and I know it’ll be even bigger in the NFL. I’ve got this NFL veteran that’s right here in front of me. I don’t really know too many NFL vets. I’ve got some friends that are in the league, but they haven’t been there long enough to really understand the NFL like he would. I just ask Karney about the mental aspect of the game, what he did to stay there, and what type of mentality he came with every game. He told me that 90 percent of the NFL is mental, and you have to do what works best for you.
Whatever team I get drafted to, I’m going try to find another vet in the locker room and just try to pick their brain and see if they can help me so I can prolong my career in the NFL.
Do you feel like you’re ready for the Combine?
I feel ready but I’m glad we’ve got some more time, because I’m still not completely confident yet. There’re still some things that Brent [Callaway] and them need to work on me with. We’re that close and we’re getting it down, but just more repetitions. I’m glad we’ve got more time, because the time we need I’m going to take advantage of. Those guys are great with what they do, and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me thus far; but I’m glad I’ve got more time to continue and grow on what I’ve already learned so that when I get to the NFL Combine, I can be confident and I can go out there and I won’t think about anything. I’ll put my hand on that line and just go.
What do you want coaches and scouts to know about you?
I just want to go in there and I just want to be me. I just want them to know who Melvin Gordon is. I don’t want to put on a front or be someone who I’m not, because eventually they’ll see who I am anyways when they draft me. So why not just go in there and give them who I really am?
I just want to go in there and show them that I have some knowledge of football. Obviously I still can grow in some areas. There’s a lot of football out there yet for me to learn. I want to at least go in there and show them what I know. They can learn about me. If they ask questions, I’ll be more than willing to answer them. I just want to go in there and just be Melvin Gordon and let them know who I really am.
Read more about stars of the 2015 NFL Draft: