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Todd Gurley: 2015 Dynasty Rookie & Prospects Analysis

In our 2015 Dynasty Prospects series, Rotoballer writer Edward Gorelik uses a couple of choice plays from a players college career to profile their potential NFL future and immediate impact for the 2015 season. In the first episode of this series, we look at the St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley.

The last time a running back was drafted in the first round was in 2012, when Trent Richardson joined an exclusive group of only 20 other running backs to be drafted in the top 3 since the modern day NFL was formed. Richardson didn't live up to the expectation and now a phrase like "generational running back prospect" immediately brings back memories of one of the biggest running back busts the NFL may have ever seen. That's not going to stop me from saying it for Todd Gurley though, because Gurley can easily be put amongst that echelon of prospects. It's nearly impossible to find a dynasty mock draft that doesn't have Gurley going 1.01 and that's exactly how it should be, because he is just that talented- even after his ACL tear which, if he hadn't suffered, would have almost definitely resulted in his name being added to the list of top 3 overall running back picks. Enough talk though, let's look at a few plays from his games against Clemson and South Carolina in 2014 that show the kind of player Todd Gurley is.

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Todd Gurley III

Let's start with this play that shows some basics about Gurley. Georgia's in a passing look with six blockers on the line against a five man box with two defenders right on the edges. They're going to run a misdirection to the right side, but Gurley's going to be following the pulling guard to the left. As soon as Gurley is given the ball, one of the defensive lineman is crashing into the backfield. He's quick to recognize this and bends further down towards the left side in order to keep a distance between him and the oncoming defender. Gurley then lowers his pads and begins running up through traffic, taking the very small crease he's given and turning it into a four yard gain. That's tough running, and most importantly it's turning a play that should have been a loss into a gain- through one subtle move.

 

Georgia's in a passing look with six blockers upfront against six in the box. Gurley's following the pulling right guard as he comes across to the left side of the line. While he's following, you can see that Gurley is trying to go to the outside, or at least telling the defense that he is. Despite penetration into the backfield, Gurley keeps his plan in focus as he angles himself like he's going to run for the sideline and after breaking an arm tackle in the backfield, he makes a hard cut upfield and finds space to run behind his blocker. Small mental details like the pacing and spacing of each step help set up each part of this block (and is why you can tell he was baiting defenders towards the sideline) and as he passes the line, Gurley's athleticism takes over. Gurley bursts through the hole, takes the angle away from the incoming defensive back allowing him to break their arm tackle and, as he's regaining his balance, carries another defender who hits him for an extra 5 yards. That's vision, patience, power, elusiveness and burst all working together to create a big play when the backfield penetration should have taken him down for a loss.

 

Georgia's in a more obvious run look with eight blockers against an eight man box. This is the formation they commonly use for the outside toss that this play is eluding to, which is why the entire defense is quick to abandon responsibilities and sell out to stop this outside run. Instead, Gurley sees the entire defense flowing towards that direction and cuts back inside, taking the huge hole that the Clemson defense has now left for him. He runs through the arm tackle of the defensive lineman and has already made the defense pay for their overcommitment but Gurley doesn't show mercy. Now he's one on one with the safety and he angles his run just outside of the safeties angle, causing him to lose balance and giving Gurley a free run into the endzone. His ability to improvise and take angles away from defenders is on full display.

 

The same run look as the previous play with eight blockers against an eight man box. They're not overcommitting this time, but it doesn't matter. Gurley again times his pacing as he comes up to the line to allow his blocks to set up before he accelerates through them. He breaks two arm tackles (one from each side) as he comes through the line, regains his balance, and quickly reaches his top speed to outrun the rest of Clemson to the endzone.

 

A short play that doesn't particularly stand out- but it shows a trait that the next play is going to show as well. Gurley reaches out for a high throw, pulls the ball into his chest and is able to hold it through contact. It's not your typical running back catch. That's a tough catch to make, and Gurley's a tough player who can make it.

 

Run look from Georgia with six blockers on the line against a six man box. Gurley sees a potential opening right outside the LT but the receiver misses his block. He's quick to flatten his path to make it parallel to the sideline, giving a harder angle to the crashing DB. Then, after stopping, he gives a small inside fake before breaking back outside and breaking an arm tackle, while sliding past another DBs attempted tackle. The rest is just a display of his incredible balance through contact- but again he's improvising and taking away angles to turn broken plays into successful plays.

 

Projecting Todd Gurley's Future

Jeff Fisher, coach of the St. Louis Rams, knows how to draft first round running backs. Under his head coaching, he's had two first round picks used on RBs, the first on the great Eddie George and the second on Chris Johnson. These are two backs that were groomed into 3 down duties, took many carries under Fisher's coaching, and excelled constantly. Fisher knows a talented running back when he sees one, which is the point i'm trying to make, and the Rams picking Gurley despite having Mason, Stacy, and Cunningham on the roster (thereby making all three of them obsolete) shows how highly he thinks of Gurley, who's actually been compared many times to Eddie George.

Even if he doesn't fully recover from the ACL tear he suffered in November of last year, Gurley's vision is going easily carry him into the top 10 of every years running backs. Players like Frank Gore, Edgerrin James and Willis McGahee (who all had high vision skills like Gurley) were able to withstand major career impacting injuries before entering the NFL and excel, so yes there is a historical basis for running backs that were this talented (specifically in the vision department) recovering and taking the NFL by storm and that goes without considering that current ACL rehabilitation is way better than what it was when those three players suffered theirs.

If he does recover fully, and there's nothing to say that he won't, you're looking at a player that could easily be one of the top 5 most talented running backs in the NFL, even as a rookie. This is a guy who would have been worth 1.01 even in last years class.

So let's just review some of Gurley's skills. Great vision. Patience. Able to make decisions quickly and improvise. Breaks arm tackles. Carries defenders. Takes angles away from defenders. Bursts through the line. Doesn't get caught from behind. Catches with arms extended away from the body. Consistently turns backfield penetration into a positive gain. Makes the first player miss consistently. Sounds to me like a future top running back.

Now we'll turn our attention to what his immediate impact might be by looking at Jeff Fisher's last two first round running back's rookie years.

CAR YDS TD REC REC YDs RTD
Chris Johnson 251 1228 9 43 260 1
Eddie George 335 1368 8 23 182 0
Average 293 1298 8.5 33 221 0.5

 

Currently, Gurley is at an ADP of 6.04 according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com and is the 28th running back coming off the board. If Gurley was to hit just the average numbers of previous years (assuming he plays all 16 games) you're looking at 199 points in a non-ppr from Gurley, good enough for the 7th best running back last year. If Gurley misses the first month, as it's expected he might, then his projected points would go down to 149 in a non-ppr, good enough for 15th best amongst 2014's RBs. This is for an early 6th round pick- and you have to assume that if news comes out he won't be ready early then he'll be dropping into the even later rounds.

My final take on Gurley is that he's going to be a top running back in the league. From the moment he takes the starting job in St. Louis he'll be carrying that team on his shoulders for years, and his rookie year will pay off dividends for any one who's willing to grab and hold him in redraft. He'll be a monster to deal with on the ground and his catching ability is good enough that he'll be seeing the ball through the air enough to keep his floor consistently high. Draft him and forget about it, you've just taken a star in the making.

 

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