Melvin Gordon hopes to ignite Chargers' ground game

SAN DIEGO -- Here's a statistic that sums up the reason San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco was compelled to give up a fourth-rounder in this year's draft and a fifth in 2016 in order to move up two spots to draft Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Gordon finished with 35 rushes of 20 yards or longer in his final season at Wisconsin, nine more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision player in a single season in the last decade.

San Diego totaled just six rushes of 20 yards or longer in 2014.

The Chargers desperately needed an explosive playmaker in the backfield to take pressure off of quarterback Philip Rivers, who heads into 2015 in the final year of his contract and unsure if he'll be with the team beyond this season.

"He has home-run ability," Telesco said about Gordon. "He's an exciting playmaker, and an impact player."

Gordon will be tasked with adding juice to a run game that averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season. Only the Arizona Cardinals were worse at running the football on a per-carry basis.

But Gordon said he's not expected to come in and save San Diego's offense. The Chargers and Rivers have plenty of weapons at their disposal, including future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates, receivers Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd, and change-of-pace running backs Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver.

"At Wisconsin, being a running back you're expected to ball out every game," Gordon said. "You're expected to go out there and lead the team. You always have expectations, but I don't feel like I need to carry the team.

"We've got enough weapons to where I don't feel I even have to think about that at this point in time. I just need to learn the playbook, go out there and be myself -- go out there and make plays, and be the guy they saw on film when they drafted me."

With Todd Gurley selected No. 10 overall by the St. Louis Rams and Gordon drafted at No. 15 by the Chargers, at least two running backs were selected in the first round of the NFL draft for the first time since 2012, bucking the trend that the position has been devalued of late.

Longtime NFL running back Steven Jackson created a tongue-in-cheek movement to save the running back position. Jackson said he has been in touch with Gordon during the pre-draft and post-draft process, reaching out to San Diego's newest addition soon after the draft.

"I texted Melvin and I said, 'This is a great start but we have to make sure that you have a successful career and you show a commitment to being an all-around pro on and off the field,'" Jackson said. "I offered my expertise to him if he needs that. And that goes for any young running back."

Gordon has an uphill climb in showing his worth. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only one of the 10 first-round running backs chosen in the past six seasons ran for 1,000 yards as a rookie -- Doug Martin in 2012. Martin has struggled since then, with a combined 950 rushing yards during injury-plauged 2013 and 2014 seasons.

But if anyone can prove detractors wrong, it's Gordon. At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Gordon has a rare blend of strength, quickness and speed, making it hard for defenders to a get a good shot on him in the open field.

"I like breaking people's ankles," said Gordon, when asked what he prefers, running through or around a defender. "The less contact on the body, the less wear and tear -- I just shake you and keep on moving."

But Gordon said he will put his pads down if needed.

"You've got to," said Gordon. "Sometimes it's a lose-lose situation and you have to do what you have to do. You just have to put your pads down, lower your pads and get to work."

One of the reasons the Chargers selected Gordon was durability; he hadn't missed a game in three seasons at Wisconsin. San Diego's last feature back, Ryan Mathews, missed a quarter of the team's games due to injury during his five-year tenure with the Chargers.

If Gordon can stay healthy, he should have a chance to break San Diego's rookie rushing record of 1,236 yards, set by future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001. However, Gordon said he's focused more on team success than individual accolades.

"If I can match Philip's game, the way he plays and how he does things on the field, I feel like we can be special," Gordon said. "I feel like we can be really special. We've got the receivers. We've got the tight ends. We've got the guys up front. ... We've got some vets all around and some playmakers. So if I can play at Philip's level, I can help this team.

"That's the goal at the end of the day, to win championships. I just want to be part of something special. And I feel like I can with this team."

ESPN NFL Nation Rams reporter Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.