Sophomore running back Melvin Gordon has decided to forgo the NFL draft and will return to Wisconsin for his junior season, according to a release from the Wisconsin athletic department. Gordon told reporters on Dec. 10 he was still weighing whether to turn pro, but in the end Gordon decided another year in school would be better for him in the long term.
"After talking it over with my family and my coaches, I have decided to come back next year," Gordon said in a statement. "I love the University of Wisconsin and feel that there is still a lot of room for growth. Academically, another year in school will help me get closer to completing my degree and on the field I hope to help my team get back the Big Ten championship."
Gordon finalized his decision ahead of schedule, but the result was a welcome one for Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen. Andersen told reporters two weeks ago that he felt another year in school was in Gordon's best interest, both for Gordon's future professional career and his team's prospects in 2014.
"Melvin is a great player and a great kid and we are very happy with his decision," Andersen said in a statement. "We tried to be very supportive throughout the decision-making process and relayed all the information he needed to make an informed decision. I'm glad he can now focus on the bowl game and prepare for a great 2014."
Gordon's decision to return to the Badgers seems likely to work out for everyone involved. The Badgers were facing a very thin depth chart at tailback if Gordon decided to turn pro, which would have left Corey Clement as the only running back on the roster who saw significant playing time in 2013.
Instead Wisconsin's offense will likely lean on Gordon even more in 2014, with Clement taking a step up as the team's primary backup. It also seems unlikely that the Badgers will have a completely settled quarterback situation next fall, with Tanner McEvoy, Bart Houston and D.J. Gillins set to compete with incumbent starter Joel Stave as soon as this spring.
So while Wisconsin's passing game will remain a big question mark for the foreseeable future, Gordon's return gives the Badgers and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig a considerable security blanket to fall back on.
From Gordon's perspective another year will give him a chance to improve his draft stock before potentially turning pro after his junior season. Gordon told reporters in early December that a third round grade or lower from the NFL draft advisory board wouldn't persuade him to turn pro, so it seems likely that the NFL told Gordon he'd need to work on a few things to boost his stock.
As far as career carries go Gordon's workload has been relatively light, which would give him a definite edge over some other tailbacks who took a beating during their college careers. But NFL teams also value running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield and hold their own in pass rush, and Gordon didn't get many chances to prove he can do that consistently this year. James White was Wisconsin's primary third-down back and finished the regular season as the team's No. 2 receiving option behind Jared Abbrederis, whereas Gordon has caught just one pass in 12 games.
Gordon said he thinks he can hold his own in pass catching and pass blocking, but NFL teams don't have time to wait and see if a young player like Gordon can deliver and be an every-down back- especially if they took him in the second or third round. By returning to school, Gordon is giving himself a chance to put those other skills of his on tape, in addition to competing for some of the individual awards that he fell just short of as a sophomore.
Stay-or-go decisions are never simple, but returning to school has a chance to put both Gordon and the Badgers in a better situation this time next year.
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