Case for Cardinals drafting Melvin Gordon easily justifiable

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There’s a disclaimer needed any time Melvin Gordon is mentioned at the 24th pick.

There’s a good chance -- a very good chance -- he won’t be around for the Arizona Cardinals to draft. But if he is, it’s easy to justify why the Cardinals should pick the former Wisconsin running back.

While he’s fast and quick -- insert your buzz word here -- Gordon would be more of a complement to Andre Ellington than Todd Gurley, the other running back projected to be a first-round pick.

“He’s significantly bigger (than Ellington) because he’s 6-foot, 215 pounds,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said of Gordon. “And when you see the jersey No. 25 and you see the dreads and you see the feet and the lateral cut ability, it certainly brings (Kansas City’s) Jamaal Charles to mind. He’s a dynamic runner.”

Besides Marshawn Lynch, there’s no better back in the NFL to be compared to than Charles for a college prospect. Since 2009, when Charles has played in at least 15 games he’s run for at least 1,000 yards. He’s not a touchdown machine, but he gains yards like few in the NFL can.

Gordon also comes with this disclaimer: He likely won’t be an off-field issue. Earlier this week he helped host a charity bowling event in Chicago leading up to the draft.

All told, that’s why Gordon may not be on the board when Arizona picks. He and Gurley are expected to be the first running backs taken in the first round since 2012. Before then, at least one running back was drafted in every first round between 1967 and 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Keim believes the value of running backs has dropped because other solid options can be found on the final day. But sometimes there’s a gem who’s too good to pass up in the first round.

“If one stands out, and there are some that stand out in this group, that warrant being the No. 1 pick who’s a three-down player and is not going to come off the field unless he gets tired, then you’ll see them come back up,” Keim said. “I just don’t think they’ve been there for the last few years.”

Gordon would be an instant fix for a Cardinals run game that struggled after Week 2 last season, when Jonathan Dwyer was placed on the non-football injury list. The Cardinals were ranked last in yards per carry and second to last in total rushing yards, having a beat-up Ellington, who played all 12 of his games with a foot injury. On third-and-short last season, Gordon averaged 4.2 yards per carry, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When the Badgers needed three yards or less for a first down, regardless of down, Gordon averaged 5.4 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns. He also had 18 touchdowns in the red zone.

Gurley, however, won’t be an instant solution.

He’s still recovering from ACL surgery in late November -- just five months ago. A typical rehab takes at least eight months, which would leave Gurley healthy at the start of training camp -- at the earliest. Do the Cardinals want to draft a running back who’ll miss OTAs and minicamp? Unlikely.

“There are two different things,” Keim said. “There is short-term availability and then there is long term. If you have a player who’s got some long-term issues with a knee or shoulder that is going to be a problem, where he’s a one-contract guy versus someone who you think you can continue to grow in your organization for two or three contracts, it makes a huge difference.

“That’s why you’ll see certain guys slide in the draft based on what their long-term durability issues are.”

But medical checks are an extensive part of what teams, including Arizona, do during the evaluation period.

“At the end of the day you have to trust your medical staff,” Keim said. “We put a lot of time into looking at these guys at the combine with MRIs and different things. Then the players go back to re-checks who have had medical issues.

“So, I’ll meet with our doctors and our trainers, and it’s a big part of it because durability equals availability.”