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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Gordon had a steadily ascendant career with the Badgers. After redshirting during his freshman year in 2011 (he played in three games before a groin injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season), he saw limited playing time the following season but still produced 621 rushing yards, at a nice, fat ten yards per carry (and, to top it off, rushing for 216 yards in Big Ten Championship Game against Nebraska). In 2013, with Montee Ball moving to the NFL, Gordon shared the running back duties with James White, totaling a team-best 1,609 rushing yards, at a nation-leading 7.8 YPC, enough to garner second-team All-Big Ten laurels.

That was good; what he did in 2014 was spectacular: Gordon posted the second-most single-season rushing yards in FBS History with 2,587 (Barry Sanders is No. 1 with 2,628 in 1988), won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's best running back, and was selected first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten (plus, he was the Heisman runner-up). But what got him into the national spotlight was his record 408 yards against Nebraska, which achieved on the final play of the third quarter.

Gordon is a home run hitter, with twelve 100-yard games and six 200-yard games in his Wisconsin career. He particularly shines outside the tackles, where he turns the corner with ease and uses outstanding burst and a long stride to gain separation and run away from defenders. On the other hand, he's not as effective between the tackles, nor is he an accomplished enough blocker or receiver to be a reliable three-down back, even if pass-catching has improved to the point where he can be an effective receiver out of the backfield.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss SPARQ (%)
6' 1" 215 32⅜" 9¾" 4.52 1.63 19 35" 126" 7.04 4.07 125.7 (63.9)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

And over at Draft Breakdown, they have nine of Gordon's games for your visual delectation. Of course, you'll want to review his (at the time ) record-setting 408-yard performance against Nebraska. In addition, check him out at LSU, where he went 16-140 and versus Big 10 rival Illinois (17-175). In addition, there's his fine work against Arizona St. (15-193) from 2013.

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Gordon:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 2nd-ranked RB; 23rd overall:

Competitiveness: Fearless runner who doesn't gear down or brace for contact. Plays with emotion and swagger. Willing to step up and take on bigger defenders in pass pro. Would have a much better grade in this area if not for ball-security troubles, which are significant. Doesn't always carry ball high and tight. Has bad habit of extending ball away from frame trying to make defenders in space. Fumbled 12 times (seven lost) on 653 career offensive touches -- and seven of his 12 fumbles came in 2014, so the problem is worsening. That's a fumble rate of 1.8 percent, which ranks among the worst of the 2015 RB prospects.

Vision/Patience: Will look to bounce a few too many runs outside. But overall he demonstrates good patience and vision as a runner. Quickly locates seams between tackles. Reads second level and excellent feel for backside crease. Above-average patience following lead blockers and routinely makes correct cut off of block.

Agility/Acceleration: Excellent off-tackle and outside runner. Violent jump cuts. Can press inside then bounce outside. Frequently makes defender miss in hole and makes first defender miss in space. Home-run hitter who reaches considerable top-end speed quickly. Will win most foot races for approximately 40 yards, but tends to stall out beyond that point and gets tracked down several times at the end of long runs (obviously a very minor issue).

Power/Balance: Inside run skills are good but not great. Ran with better pad level and more power in 2014. Explosive enough to run through contact when defenders fail to wrap up. Builds so much momentum that he falls forward at the end of runs. Rarely gets knocked backwards. However, has below-average bulk and is a bit of a narrow-based runner. He's never going to be a pile-pusher. Also occasionally gets legs cut out from under him too easily.

Passing Game: Made strides as a receiver and in pass pro in 2014. Seems to lack natural feel as a route-runner and his ball skills (while improved) are still below-average. Better when facing QB and on shorter throws. Struggles a bit to track over his shoulder. Big-play threat after catch because of initial burst and open-field running skills. Showed better awareness in pass pro and is willing. Does a solid job moving feet and can get to the spot, but needs to be more consistent getting feet underneath him prior to initial contact. Will get driven back into QB when he's not balanced and assertive (see: first play of second quarter versus Auburn).

Intangibles: Father is Melvin Gordon. Team-oriented player who loves the game and is committed to getting better. Served as teacher's assistant in high school and volunteered serving food at a homeless shelter. Coached youth football. Majoring in life science communication. Academic All-Big Ten in 2012.

Dane Brugler and Brandon Thorn (CBSSports.com) 2nd-ranked RB; 22nd overall:

Strengths: Well-rounded skill set and is elite in two areas: balance and acceleration. Goes zero to 60 in a flash and bursts to top speed quickly with the vision and patience to follow blocks and find holes to daylight.

Has the natural balance to bounce off contact without losing momentum with a physical nature to break arm tackles. Lowers his pads and keeps his legs pumping to generate deceiving power. Hits top speed in a flash to quickly get to the second level and beyond.

Weaknesses: Good, but not elite overall athlete. Unproven as a pass-catcher. Only average power. His body type isn't ideal, with a high-cut frame and only average bulk throughout (similar skill-set as Jamaal Charles).

Compares to: Reggie Bush, Lions. Bush?s sheer athleticism and speed allowed him to dominate college football much like Gordon did. While Bush is shiftier, Gordon is stronger, but both guys catch the ball extremely well and have similar body types. Neither had to do much work at the line of scrimmage in college in terms of identifying the hole and being patient. Much like this has hurt Bush in the NFL, it could hinder Gordon.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 2nd-ranked RB; 25th overall:

Strengths: Tall, leggy running back with shredded physique. Transitions run from inside to outside without losing any speed. Can cover five yards in two strides when fully unlocked in open field. Impressive 20-yard burst, creating space to hit the big runs. Averaged 7.6 yards per carry over last two seasons. Had 40 runs for 15-plus yards in 2014. Shifty in open field without having to hesitate. Uses jump-cut at line of scrimmage to change gaps and avoid tacklers. Has an effective spin move to make defenders miss in open field. Great agility and plus balance hurdling opponents diving at his legs. Feet keep moving in tight spaces, probing for daylight. Able to consistently beat college defenders to flank. Loves to run over the tackles. Shows ability to create for himself and has burst and agility to turn small gain into big one. Improved as a pass-catcher over second half of the 2014 season.

Weaknesses: Desires to bounce runs wide too often. Not as trusting of blocking from B-gap to B-gap. Held to "stuffs" -- runs resulting in no yards or a loss -- on 19.2 percent of his carries. Feel and instincts as interior runner need improvement. Shows indecisiveness as one-cut runner. Would gear down and stutter-step to line, waiting for crease to show itself rather than adjusting on fly and taking what was available. Play strength through hole was only average. Used speed over strength to create many missed or broken tackles. Benefited from gaping running lanes. Ball security was an issue. Fumbled six times over his final five games, often being stripped while finishing run. Uncomfortable pass-catcher with marginal hands. Either dropped, double caught or smothered many throws. Pass protection needs work. Might have to come off field on third downs.

NFL Comparison: Robert Smith

Bob Sturm (Dallas Morning News):

What I liked: Gordon shows the turbo boost that is not human.  He does this routinely and it is that home run ability where he can simply out-run your defenders that makes him a 1st round talent.  He is not simply an outside runner, but with that threat, it stretches a defense to over-commit to those angles, which, of course, allow for wider lanes inside.  He is a workhorse, but never loses his explosiveness and decisiveness.  He finishes his runs with great conviction.  He runs low and is able to take on players at his size and always get forward.  He had 631 college carries with an absurd 7.8 yards per attempt which is the best combination of workload and production that we have seen in the college game in the last 20 years.  To be able to accomplish that without the aid of a respectable passing game over his 3 years at Wisconsin should only add to his ledger.

What I did not like: The questions about Gordon are many due to his unique college career.  First, he is smaller than Gurley, and therefore not as appealing - yet his dimensions are really similar to DeMarco Murray.  Second, also like Murray, he fumbled in 2014 at a disconcerting rate.  It wasn't a promise that it will always be an issue, but with the gigantic workload, one must ask if his ball security drops.  Third, he has 22 receptions in college and that is a major issue at the NFL level.  I think it is mitigated because he operated in an offense where that was not ever an option they explored, but it at least has to be asked if he can adapt.  And Fourth, also because of his style of offense, is he able to pick up the blitz?  In the games I studied, he was willing, but that may never be his specialty.

Summary: I think that for a team like the Cowboys he fits like a hand in a glove because he is ready to plug and play and also has been running these plays for years.  He is a home-run hitter who may not have all of the boxes checked on the checklist, but he is absolutely a top RB quality about him.  There is no question that people are leery of Wisconsin running backs, but this guy should not be compared to Ron Dayne or Montee Ball.  He is a legitimate stud and a clear first round talent.

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Our panel is very consistent in its assessment of Gordon, rating him tightly (from 22nd to the 25th best player in the draft). If we believe their ratings, we should expected to see him come off the board right in the Cowboys first round range. Consequently, I'll have no problem whatsoever placing him squarely in round one on my "little board."

That said, I would have a problem if they actually take him. Not because I don't think he has the ability to help the running game; he clearly has the skillset to succeed at the next level. Rather his skillset doesn't seem to mesh particularly well with what the Cowboys need from their running backs - even if they do decide to adopt a committee approach. Because he's so limited in the passing game, his very presence in the lineup would either indicate the Cowboys intention to run or, if they pass, put a liability on the field. With an aging franchise quarterback, neither of those seem like optimal choices.

If he's on the board at 27, therefore, I'll cross my fingers and hope that they pick the best remaining defensive player.

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Next up: Boise St. RB Jay Ajayi