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Player Spotlight: Todd Gurley

A detailed examination of Todd Gurley's fantasy prospects for the 2016 season.

Setting the Stage

Todd Gurley was a three sport star at Tarboro high school in North Carolina, in football, track and basketball. In his senior season, he had 2,600 yards from scrimmage and scored 38 touchdowns. He was also a sprinter and hurdler, running a 10.7 second 100-meter. He was rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and decided to attend the University of Georgia.

Gurley started 12 games in his first season and became only the second true freshman in Georgia history  (Herschel Walker was the first) to run for over 1,000 yards, rushing for 1,385 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns. Gurley only played in 11 games as a sophomore rushing for 989 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. After the season, he joined the track team and competed in the 60-meter hurdles. He was suspended for two games his junior year for alleged NCAA violations and following his suspension, tore his ACL in his first game back. He had his best rushing average at 7.4 ypc, but only totaled 911 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns in only six games. After the season, Gurley declared for the 2015 NFL Draft.

His rehab from the late season ACL prevented him from participating in the NFL Combine, but he was still drafted by the Rams with the 10th overall pick and was the first running back selected. His recovery limited him for the entire pre-season and he did not play until the team’s third game, where he only played sparingly. He started in week four and began a streak of five straight games where he had over 100 yards from scrimmage. He totaled 738 yards over those five games on 124 touches. He had a couple of tough game against Cincinnati and Arizona in the second half of the season, where he was held to only 60 yards rushing on 18 total carries.    

The following table provides his game by game statistics for his rookie season.

Week Opp oSnap Rushes yds TDs Target Rec yds TDs
3 Pitt 14 6 9 0 1 1 5 0
4

Ariz

36 19 146 0 2 2 15 0
5

GB

45 30 159 0 0 0 0 0
7 Cleve 36 19 128 2 5 4 35 0
8 SF 36 20 133 1 3 3 13 0
9 Minn 58 24 89 1 5 3 20 0
10 Chi 31 12 45 1 3 3 44 0
11 Balt 45 25 66 1 0 0 0 0
12 Cin 29 9 19 0 2 1 11 0
13 Ariz 26 9 41 0 0 0 0 0
14 Det 30 16 140 2 2 1 7 0
15 TB 34 21 48 1 2 2 31 0
16 Sea 36 19 85 1 1 1 7 0
Totals   456 229 1,108 10 26 21 188 0


Looking Forward to 2016

The Rams offensive line has been a weak link for several seasons. In the 2015 draft, they added four players, taking offensive linemen in the second, third, fourth and sixth rounds. Jeff Fisher commented, "As I've said numerous times, since our arrival here we've wanted to build the offensive line through the draft. We haven't had the opportunity because of the other needs. This year (2015) we had the opportunity. This is going to be a good group and it's going to be a good group for a long time with depth.” Even with those additions, most pundits ranked them toward the bottom of the NFL. Several of the rookies played a lot last year, including 31 games started, just under 40% of the total starts. The younger guys improved over the year and gained valuable experience. Surprisingly, they only allowed 18 sacks, leading the league in that category. Considering who played quarterbacks for the Rams (Nick Foles and Case Keenum), that statistic indicates the offensive line overall was at least somewhat better than their ranking. The team also averaged 4.6 yards per rush, 8th highest in the NFL. That average was definitely influenced by Gurley’s skills as he averaged 4.8 ypr and all other Rams’ running backs combined for 3.1 ypr.

The Rams have not had good quarterbacking in a while. In the 2016 draft, they decided enough was enough and spent considerable draft capital, including picks 15, 43, 45 and 76 in 2015 and their first and third next year to draft Jared Goff. They also received picks 113 and 177 this year from the Titans. At this point, we don’t know how successful Goff will be, but the Rams trade and draft capital cost to get him should indicate that Goff will be the starting quarterback as soon as possible. Their plan to get Goff on the field quickly will definitely feature a lot of Todd Gurley to take ease the pressure on Goff. The majority of the Rams offense will be very young and have a chance to grow together.

Gurley missed practically all the pre-season reps in his rookie season, but still played very well. He should be much more familiar and comfortable with the offense this year. Even though the Rams have a decent receiving back in Benny Cunningham, Gurley’s speed and athleticism would be a great fit in the passing game. He had only 21 receptions in his rookie season, but had 65 as a collegiate player at Georgia. With his availability for the off-season workouts, expect him to be more involved in the passing game this year.

The Rams also have very young wide receivers and although several seem to be athletic and capable of good production, none have really established themselves as play-makers in the NFL. Tavon Austin has shown flashes and should still get opportunities, but look for Todd Gurley to be the primary play-maker for the Rams in 2016.

Positives
• Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards as a rookie and dominated over a five game stretch
• He should be much more comfortable being involved in the off-season program and more healthy in year two
• Their young offensive line should be improved with their additional experience

Negatives
• Their new starting quarterback could be limited early in the season
• They are still waiting on their wide receivers to perform to reduce the pressure on the running game
• They play in the tough NFC West with two games each against Seattle and Arizona

Projections

Name Gms Rushes yds TDs Rec yds TDs
David Dodds 16 275 1,238 11 35 298 1
Bob Henry 16 250 1,200 11 32 280 1
Jason Wood 16 290 1,400 12 37 300 1
Stephen Holloway 16 320 1,440 10 40 360 2

Final thoughts

The running back position is a difficult one to gauge individual performance in today’s NFL as most teams have a plan to distribute the carries and targets to hopefully keep their roster injury free and available for the playoffs after the long season. Todd Gurley is one of the few starting running backs that are expected to have a consistent three down role in the offense. Gurley is one year further removed from his ACL surgery and has the benefits of participating in the off-season work to gain more knowledge of the overall game plan in his second season. Gurley is young and did not have an abundance of work at the college level. He is perfectly situated in a young offense to have a feature role for years and should have a very high floor of opportunities with the Rams in their first season in Los Angeles.

Other’s Thoughts

Nick Wagoner on ESPN.com - #85 of ESPN's NFL Top 100 Predictions Even with Jared Goff and new passing game coordinator Mike Groh in place, the Rams' offense will still revolve around RB Todd Gurley. So long as Gurley remains healthy, he'll average 20-plus touches per game.

Matt Waldman in his player comments on Footballguys.com – Gurley displayed flashes of greatness as a rookie while still not fully recovered from an ACL tear. Although Jared Goff might be a reason some will use to put a damper on Gurley’s upsode, there are many cases where young running backs carry offenses with rookie signal callers and thrive. Gurley is Jeff Fisher’s Eddie George 2.0

Nick Waggoner on ESPN.comCarl Jr.’s newest pitch man Todd Gurley enjoying OTAs, California lifestyle
“He’s not missed a day and he’s running extra after practice," Fisher said. "He’s doing everything to the point where you almost say, ‘Let’s back down a little bit.’ He’s had an impressive offseason.”

One of the unintended consequences of Gurley's voracious appetite for offseason workouts (even over hamburgers) -- he trained at EXOS performance center in Los Angeles -- was a fairly dramatic weight loss of about 10 to 15 pounds. Gurley was listed at 231 pounds a year ago, which would put him in the 216- to 221-pound range right now. According to Gurley, that wasn't by design, but it's also not an unwelcome development.