Fantasy football owners and Chargers fans are very excited about the prospect of Melvin Gordon’s return to the team’s offensive backfield. Sports bettors shouldn’t get too excited about the running back’s decision to end his holdout. The simple truth is that his return to the field doesn’t move the needle for Philip Rivers and company.
There’s a reason the Chargers didn’t fall all over themselves to get Gordon to report. They knew they had sufficient depth behind him at the running back position. Austin Ekeler and Jonathan Jackson have done more than just keep the offense afloat during the first three weeks of the season. Los Angeles currently ranks 8th in the NFL in offensive DVOA per Football Outsiders. The run game currently checks in at a healthy rank of No. 12.
Gordon is a better back than either Ekeler or Jackson, but the talent gap between the trio is relatively small. Expect the Chargers and the media to make a big deal about Gordon’s return. That does not mean you should fall into the trip of overvaluing what he will mean for the team moving forward.
The Chargers currently reside in third place in the AFC West with an ugly record of 1-2. For comparison’s sake, that ties them with the Raiders. It’s reasonable to expect Los Angeles to rise in the standings as the year goes on, but Gordon’s return isn’t going to suddenly put them in contention with the Chiefs to win the division crown.
In other words, you should stay away from any bet that requires Los Angeles to win their division or the AFC overall. You can currently bet them at +425 to win the division but that’s nowhere near enough value to justify the risk you’d be taking. The Chiefs are going to run away with the AFC West crown barring a significant injury to Patrick Mahomes. Even if these odds rise significantly, stay away from the pipe dream of the Chargers coming back to win.
Backing the team at +1400 to win the AFC isn’t worth your time either. This represents a slightly better wager than the division odds due to the available upside, but it’s still something you should pass on. Until the odds rise well above +3000 you should not even consider the Chargers as a serious option to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The only real value to be had regarding Gordon’s return is betting against him when he’s back on the field. Keep a sharp eye on the opening line for Los Angeles’ Week 5 matchup against the Broncos. Bettors might fall into the trap of backing Los Angeles a little too heavily at the prospect of Gordon coming back and enjoying a big day against Denver’s mediocre defense.
If you see sharp movement towards the Chargers after the opening or look ahead lines are released then you should bet the other way. Gordon is going to be a big topic of discussion leading up to the game, but his impact on the field is going to be minimal compared to what the Chargers have already been getting out of their backfield.
For the record, this doesn’t mean that Gordon won’t post solid numbers from a fantasy perspective. That’s an entirely different discussion. He should consolidate carries in the Los Angeles’ backfield and become a player worthy of starting every week. Gordon could even be an interesting play in Daily Fantasy during his first couple of weeks back in the fold.
The point we are making here is that he’s not a big enough upgrade over what the Chargers already have at running back to drastically change the team’s outlook overall. Gordon is a good NFL running back, but he’s not a transcendent talent. Any improvement he gives this offense will be marginal. Don’t get caught up in the hype. This running back’s return doesn’t make the Chargers a smarter wager moving forward.