The San Diego Chargers clearly had their sights set on Melvin Gordon.
San Diego traded up from its No. 17 slot to draft Gordon with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft in Chicago Thursday night, moving aggressively to get the highly touted running back.
The San Francisco 49ers originally held the 15th pick, but the Chargers swapped the No. 17 pick, a fourth-round pick and a fifth-round pick in 2016 to move up the board.
Gordon is the 29th Badger to be drafted in the first round and is the highest pick since J.J. Watt was selected with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft.
Gordon’s 7.79 yards per carry average during his three seasons with the Badgers is an FBS career record, and his 2,587 rushing yards in 2014 are the second-highest single-season total in FBS history. He ranks third in total rushing yards (4,915) and is tied for third in rushing touchdowns (45) in school history.
His 2,587 rushing yards, 7.5 yards per carry average and 32 total touchdowns in 2014 earned him the Doak Walker Award and First-team All-American honors. Gordon finished second in the Heisman Award voting behind former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the second overall pick.
Although he had steadily boosted his draft stock throughout the season, Gordon’s dominant performance against Nebraska Nov. 15 catapulted him into the Heisman discussion and completely solidified the notion that he possessed potent next-level talent. Gordon completely outclassed the Huskers’ defense, rushing for a then-FBS-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in just 25 attempts without playing a single snap in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine topped that single-game rushing record the following week, but Gordon’s effort had already made its mark.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back’s greatest strengths are his acute field vision, acceleration and cutting ability in the open field. Gordon is an average pass catcher and he struggled at times with creating separation when defenses loaded the box, but his receiving ability will continue to develop and NFL defenses can’t squat on the line of scrimmage as heavily as their college counterparts.
Now, Gordon will get to work with the Chargers, who had the third-worst rushing offense in the NFL in 2014. Gordon will enter the running backs rotation with Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead after Ryan Mathews left for the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason.
Although Gordon will not immediately walk into a starting role, he will be a valuable cog in the Chargers’ rushing attack moving forward. Head coach Mike McCoy has a great deal to work on this offseason after finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs in 2014, but improving the rushing game was evidently at the top of his list.
Gordon’s career at Wisconsin is now just a memory. The deafening roar of the crowd during his record-breaking 26-yard touchdown run against Nebraska will still echo off Camp Randall Stadium’s mountainous walls. The reflection of the number “408” on the jumbotron will still shine bright, even if it is diluted by snowflakes. That chilly November night will still be etched deeply into Wisconsin football lore.
But now, to both the sadness and the pride of Badger fans, it’s time for Gordon to build on that legacy with the Chargers.