Fans of every team in the NFL constantly feel like their team is the only one who cannot get the expected production from a rookie. For the Miami Dolphins this year, that manifests itself in the play of wide receiver and first-round draft-choice DeVante Parker. The season has primarily been a waste for Parker, who could not get on the field after missing all of training camp and the preseason as he recovered from surgery to replace a screw in the foot he broke in college. Now that Parker is on the field, he is inconsistent, just as a rookie in the early stages of his playing time would be. He does not always seem to be on the same page as quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He does not run crisp routes, a requirement in the Dolphins' current offensive scheme. That said, he has had brilliant flashes where he looks like the player Miami wanted when they picked him 14th overall.
The San Diego Chargers picked 15th in last year's draft, adding running back Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin a selection after Miami's pick of Parker. Gordon has not lived up to the expectations of the team, the fans, or himself this season. "I believe it. My time will come," Gordon told The San Diego Union-Tribune when asked if things will get better. "I promise you: I'll make it happen. I always start off rough like this. I don't know why. It just always happens to me on every single level (of football). This one, it sucks. It sucks every time; it's never good. But I guess you've got to have some bad, to make some mistakes to learn from it.
"I'm going to be better. This whole team is going to be better. I can promise you that. This record will not be the same next year. I promise you."
How bad has it been for Gordon? His highest rushing yardage total for a game this year was in Week 2, when he tallied 88 yards on 16 carries. He has only one other game in which he reached 60 yards. Last week, he ran for just 35 yards on 14 carries, giving him a 2.5 yards per carry average. He has yet to score a touchdown. He is tied for the league lead in fumbles. Not exactly what is expected of a first-round running back.
He is not wrong, however, that he has always struggled in his first season at a new level. In high school, Gordon sat the bench as a freshman. In college, much the same. Now, at the NFL, he is playing, but it has not been pretty.
Why is Gordon struggling so much? SB Nation's Chargers blog, Bolts from the Blue, took a look at Gordon this week in an effort to find the issues. Here are some of the conclusions from author Kyle Posey:
One thing that, in my opinion, has held Gordon back is his indecisiveness in the backfield. He's just inconsistent. While it's easy to point at him being a rookie, this is a position he's played seemingly for the last 10 years of his life. This should be natural for him by now. Yet, the majority of Gordon's runs start off with him stutter stepping in the backfield. Again, this is independent of what's going on in front of him as far as blocking is concerned. I would compare Gordon to a bad improv actor. When he has a script, and is on schedule, things are fine. When the director is just rolling the film, he has no clue what to do. None.
There are runs when Gordon just goes. No hesitation in the backfield. The line looks better because they're not having to hold for that extra half count.
The feel for the game. The ability to process what the defense is or is going to do and react quick enough. This is where I can see the "he's just a rookie" card being thrown out the most, but the examples where Gordon proves that he has zero feel for the game are runs where you have to watch over and over again and ask yourself what in the world made him do this.
If I was sitting down with Melvin and he told me "I don't trust my blockers" there is no way I'd argue with him about that. I wouldn't, either. The problem is Gordon isn't trusting anything. Whether it's his blockers, himself, or the play itself.
Creating for yourself
The reason why athleticism isn't an issue is because Gordon has shown that he can regularly break tackles. Whether it's in the backfield or at the second level, he's done it. Per PFF's elusive rating, Gordon has the 9th highest rating in the league of any RB. They only count missed tackles where the defender makes contact so he isn't even getting full credit here.
Here's the problem. When he's getting 1-on-1 opportunities, he's getting tackled. I know, that sounds hypocritical. That sounds like I'm being too nit-picky. There are plays, especially in the passing game, where there are just too many yards being left on the field.
Posey's full breakdown is worth checking out, as he uses video and still shots to illustrate his conclusions, and effectively show where Gordon is making his mistakes.
This is what the Dolphins will face on Sunday. The good news for Miami is that Gordon's struggles should allow them to shut him down (which, of course, just means Philip Rivers will throw the ball more, which may be dangerous). The good news for Gordon is, the Dolphins cannot stop the run this year. Currently, the Dolphins are 30th in the league against the run, allowing 131.5 yards per game. Gordon could finally reach that 100 yard mark and find the endzone if the Dolphins do not find a way to get pressure on him and make him dance in the backfield.
This week could be a game featuring two teams' weaknesses trying to establish itself as a strength. Whichever one wins out could be the team that ends up winning the game.