With his lean frame, shredded physique and big-play ability, it’s easy to see why Melvin Gordon is drawing comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles.
However, one former NFL player sees similarities in Gordon’s game to another All-Pro back.
“Melvin has the body type of a Steven Jackson,” says Mike Karney, a former fullback for the New Orleans Saints. “His make-up and how he moves his body and how fluid he runs. He does everything so effortlessly.”
Karney played for the Saints from 2004 to 2008 before spending the 2009 and ’10 seasons with the St. Louis Rams, where he blocked for Jackson. He retired in 2010 and now serves as running backs coach in the the NFL Combine training program at the EXOS performance facility in Carlsbad, California.
That’s where Karney worked with Gordon, not only on running back-specific drills for the Combine, but also helping to prepare the former Wisconsin Badger for a successful NFL career.
His message to Gordon: You may end being a high draft pick, but the ultimate objective is to play longer than the average and have a great career.
Beyond his running ability—“I really like how well he gets in and out of his cuts,” he says—Karney is impressed with Gordon’s desire to learn more about the intricacies of the position and the mental aspect of playing in the NFL.
Karney says, “He’s very inquisitive, he’s always asking questions. One thing, in my seven years, you can never stop learning about this game. You’re constantly learning, and I see that in Melvin.”
In addition to on-field skill development, Karney and Gordon devoted time in the classroom to breaking down game film and studying other crucial elements required of an NFL running back, including pass protections and route concepts.
Gordon’s zest for learning the pro game is something he wants to showcase to NFL coaches and personnel during the pre-draft process.
Gordon says, “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.”
As for the player comparison, here’s how Gordon stacks up against Jackson:
*Jackson’s numbers via NFL Draft Scout
Jackson is built like a power back—just don’t call him that—but despite being 16 pounds lighter, Gordon displayed superior upper-body strength and endurance on the 225-Bench Test.
The numbers are similar in the speed and agility tests. What jumps out most is the 8-inch difference in the Broad Jump, an indicator of Gordon’s remarkable first-step quickness, which enables him to accelerate in a flash.
In hindsight—and pretty much how Karney presented it—Gordon and Jackson share a similar body type. The difference is that Jackson was a punishing runner who thrived off initiating contact, while Gordon is more of a make-you-miss back.
Perhaps the greatest trait they share is a violent jump cut that leaves would-be tacklers flailing about in the open field.
Since we’ve come this far, let’s take a look at how Gordon compared to Charles in the pre-draft process.
*Charles’s numbers via NFL Draft Scout
Gordon owns the height-weight advantage while Charles wins the 40-yard race. The margin in the jumping events isn’t surprising, especially considering the emphasis on training for and performing well at the Combine, as opposed to even seven years ago when Charles was going through the draft process.
For example, Gordon’s 35-inch Vertical Jump would’ve tied Chris Johnson as fourth best among running backs at the 2008 Combine. In 2015, it doesn’t even crack the top 10 for his position group.
The 40 times seem to validate the assessment of an anonymous NFL executive. When asked to compare the two, he said, “Similar running styles, but Charles has more juice.” The greatest difference between the two is that Charles was more polished in the passing game than Gordon, who caught just 22 passes in his four years at Wisconsin.
The verdict: Jackson was drafted 24th overall in 2004, and Charles was selected in the third round (73rd overall) in 2008.
Gordon is arguably the top back in the 2015 draft class and worthy of a first-round selection. The Arizona Cardinals own the 24th pick of the draft and can certainly use some pop in the run game. However, the recent draft trend of devaluing running backs—no back has been selected in the first round over the last three years—may very likely drop Gordon to day two of the draft.
As for the physical and performance comparisons, Gordon is built like a Steven Jackson-lite with a skillset more reminiscent of Charles. In other words, if Charles and Jackson were to meet in the middle, you’ve got Gordon.
Read about the other stars of the 2015 NFL Draft: