By signing Melvin Gordon, Broncos made third down first priority

Gordon settles for two-year deal with Broncos (1:07)

Dan Graziano and Ryan Clark discuss Melvin Gordon's two-year, $16 million deal with the Broncos. (1:07)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The decision to sign running back Melvin Gordon was as easy as one-two-three for the Denver Broncos.

Or just three, as in third down.

With running back Phillip Lindsay posting back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing performances, some questioned the Broncos' signing of Gordon to a two-year, $16 million deal. The answer lies below a litany of offensive issues last season, when the Broncos were especially bad on third down.

"Well, I think it was part of that decision," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio earlier this week. "I always thought Melvin Gordon was a good back. ... The guy's a good football player, and any time you can add a good football player to your team, especially one that will touch the ball, if it works financially and works with the structure of your team, it's always a good thing to do."

The Broncos finished 2019 ranked 28th or worse in total offense, scoring, passing offense and red zone performance, but they were especially bad on third down. And for a team that scored 16 or fewer points in nine games -- when they were 2-7 -- they need to find ways to keep the offense on the field.

Their third-down conversion rate ranked 30th -- at 31.7% -- leaving only the New York Jets and Washington Redskins ahead of the Broncos.

Even with a sluggish start to his season after a contract holdout, Gordon converted 60% of his third-down rushes into first downs overall. Lindsey converted 20% of his third-down chances.

"If you remember, [Gordon's] first game back this year -- this past season, from his holdout -- was against us, Game 5 out there in L.A.," Fangio said. "So one of the things I did was look back and watch all his touches against the Broncos two games in 2018. And it was reaffirmed, I was impressed with that. And then we played them late in the season, and he had gotten more into form of what he is and looked good then."

Lindsay will still be a big-play option in the offense given he had 21 of the Broncos' 39 rushes of at least 10 yards last season. But 39.7% of Lindsay's carries went for 2 or fewer yards. The Broncos hope they can mesh the best of both Lindsay and Gordon into a more functional offense.

"What makes me a good runner -- when it comes to eight-in-the-box and third-and-ones -- that just comes down to mentality," Gordon said. "My college [running backs] coach, Thomas Hammock, always told me as a back, third down it's all about will. You have to be able to get it or they'll find someone else who will. ... I treat it like fourth down and I treat it like you have to go get it."

How all of it will eventually look for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who is largely expected to use one-back sets, remains to be seen. There is some room to spread carries around. Lindsay, after all, has led the team in carries in each of the past two seasons, he but only had 58.9% of the rushing attempts overall last season to go with 48.9% of the attempts in 2018. Royce Freeman, who has been second in carries in each of the last two seasons, will likely be the odd back out with Gordon's arrival.

Gordon has been more active as a receiver, with four 40-catch seasons and two 50-catch seasons compared to Lindsay's 35 receptions during each of his first two years.

"Phillip, he just hit me, he was like, 'I'm pulling for you,'" Gordon said. "He was like, 'What's good, bro? This is Phil. We're going to have a great season. Can't wait to push each other.' He sent me that so I think he's great with everything. Like I said, I think he's just trying to help the team the best way possible -- the best way possible he can and same with me."

"Philip is a competitor; he's just not gonna give away his job or his carries," Fangio said. "And it's a great time and place in the NFL right now to have two backs share the running back duties -- there's a lot of work there to be had between the both of them, and we'll see how it unfolds."