The Decline of Melvin Gordon

Having discussed the biomechanics underlying ‘burst’ earlier this week (and its relevance to Randy Gregory’s profile), Monday’s game made clear that there is another player relevant to this discussion– Melvin Gordon.

Unsurprisingly, the RB position is more dependent on burst than any other. This is compounded by the fact that for most men, the lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal areas are at least somewhat overlapped (in fact, the sacral and coccygeal spinal areas are often fused). Lumbar stenosis– painful compression of the lumbar spine– is often a result of the sacral spine pressing upward on the lumbar spine due to chronic sacral area borrowing. All this is to say that for most men, leg action involves at least some sacral area borrowing by default.

Full lumbar efficiency is specifically defined as lumbar areas that are able to fire independently of their adjoining sacral areas (also independent from thoracic etc). Which is why rare generational RB talents can play effectively into their 30s, even when their sacral areas have become much less able to be borrowed against. But this level of longevity requires multiple areas of full lumbar efficiency. Which is exceedingly rare in today’s NFL.

Melvin Gordon is a rare franchise back in that he shows one area of full lumbar efficiency (lateral posterior). And prior to last season, Gordon effectively remade his body and running style by slimming down and linking his anterior lumbar areas more tightly with his fully efficient lateral posterior areas. This gave him less anterior wriggle, but substantially increased his speed and maximized his burst through the line. In other words, he took his slowly shrinking pool of burst and pushed it all towards his most efficient areas, maximizing their effectiveness. And by many measures, Gordon’s 2021 season was among his best.

However, it is clear after seeing Gordon play on Monday that his pool of ‘burst’– his sacral area network– has shrunk substantially from the 2021 season. That even with his rebuilt body and running style, he is no longer nearly as explosive as he was last season. While in 2021 it seemed to be a legitimate debate about who was more effective, Javonte Williams or Melvin Gordon, Monday night’s game seemed to put to bed the notion that Gordon will be able to play at the same level he did in 2021. While Williams has only continued to ascend (his system will continue expanding until roughly age 25), Gordon has clearly hit his decline phase at age 29. Even still, Gordon is likely to continue to be more effective than many #2 backs throughout the league. But his days as a franchise caliber runner appear to be over. And with age 30 rapidly approaching, he will likely still be experiencing further decline in the near future.