After nearly 30 years of coaching experience, Jeff Fisher’s blueprint for NFL success is well established. In a nutshell, Fisher loves to construct grisly defenses, build a lead, and strangle the life out of the opposing defense with the power run game. The seed for this coaching philosophy was planted when he was a player. Fisher was a defensive back on a suffocating, Buddy Ryan-led defense with some guy named Walter Peyton playing running back. When Fisher was hurt during the Bears’ Super Bowl year, he spent time helping Ryan run the defense from the sidelines. Fisher put the things he had learned from these experiences into practice when he became a head coach in Tennessee. In his most successful years in Nashville, Fisher built a smash-mouth defensive group and ran the ball mercilessly with one of the greatest feature backs of all time in Eddie George. When Fisher finally left Tennessee and took the coaching job in St. Louis, he wasted no time in recreating the model that had been so successful for the Titans. In his three-year tenure, he has managed to build a nightmarish unit that includes the likes of Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Nick Fairley, Alec Ogletree, EJ Gaines, Janoris Jenkins, and many others. He’s had some success running the ball with Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, and Tre Mason. While these guys demonstrated that they were fine change-of-pace options, Fisher obviously coveted a back who could carry the full load.
Draft Don’t Lie
Enter Todd Gurley. Drafted with the 10th overall pick, Gurley is intended to be the answer to Fisher’s prayers for a bell cow back. With such a high draft slot, he will be given every opportunity to contribute. Consider also the not-so-subtle messages the Rams sent with their next moves in the draft. After picking Gurley, the Rams devoted three of their next four picks to bolstering their offensive line. Two of the linemen (Havenstein and Brown) excel in particular at run-blocking. When you consider Fisher’s coaching tendencies in addition to the moves made in the draft, every indication is that the Rams intend to pound the rock.
Will Another SEC Back Bust?
Gurley also becomes the first running back taken in the top 10 since Trent Richardson in 2012. Many will point to fellow SEC running back bust Trent Richardson as a reason that fantasy owners in dynasty formats should avoid Gurley. However, Richardson’s problems with work ethic are well documented. Recorded in an article in his Fox Sports column, former teammate Scott Fujita railed on Richardson:
“Guys get drafted all the time to places they just don’t want to be. I can’t speculate about what’s in any one person’s head, but when a player enters the league wearing headphones incessantly, shows up late for treatments, and makes little effort to engage with his teammates, he can quickly develop a reputation for being insular and high-maintenance.''
But just the opposite is true of Gurley. His self-starter mentality is noted by almost all who come into contact with him. Georgia Linebacker Coach Mike Eckler says of Gurley:
“Adrian Peterson was maybe the only player I've been around who could have gone straight from high school to the NFL. He was that special when he got out. And Todd's got those type of abilities. And his work ethic is really, really strong. He's a tremendous, tremendous talent. And a great young man."
His inner drive has also been evident in his recovery from an ACL tear suffered in November of 2014. Via Ian Rapoport, here is what Gurley's surgeon had to say about Gurley's efforts:
Gurley is not just a highly motivated guy. From a skills and measurables standpoint, Todd Gurley is arguably the most exciting running back prospect to come out since Adrian Peterson. Watching Gurley on film, one can see he has an excellent blend of size, speed, power, athleticism, patience, and vision. Though they may not be his centerpiece strengths, he promises to be an able blocker and receiver. The glaring question mark with Gurley is not his talent or his work ethic; it is his health. Gurley has had repeat issues with minor ankle sprains, one major ankle sprain, and the aforementioned torn ACL. While it is impossible to predict the likelihood of another major injury, these injuries are worth noting and continuing to keep an eye on throughout his pro career. Many speculate that the Rams will still take great care with Gurley, even when he is cleared to play. Tre Mason may start the season, with Gurley being eased into the lineup gradually by increasing his playing time each week.
- Gurley has a top-ten draft position pedigree and will be used as a feature back early and often when he sees the field.
- Gurley has elite physical tools, is an accomplished runner, a willing blocker, and a competent receiver.
- Character and determination are not issues for Gurley. Teammates and coaches speak positively of Gurley, especially when talking about his work ethic.
- Gurley has an injury history that is cause for concern going forward.
- Gurley may start slow in 2015 due to the cautious approach of the Rams.
- The Rams offensive line is currently a mediocre unit that will force Gurley to create on his own.
Todd Gurley has all the makings of a special runner who could eventually rival Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch in career production. When examining Gurley’s fit, fantasy owners need to recall that Peterson and Lynch also fell into what many considered to be poor situations. In each case, the talent of Peterson and Lynch eventually overcame the situation. Expect that Gurley will be eased into action in 2015 and will have seized the lead back role by the beginning of 2016 at the latest.
Bob Henry's Projections
Maurile Tremblay's Projections
Our very own Matt Waldman sums up Gurley’s prospects in his Post-Draft RSP:
“The best running back in this draft, Gurley joins a mediocre offense that has enough talent along the offensive line for Gurley to thrive. Jeff Fisher and company saw another opportunity to get a back like Eddie George in his prime. It's unlikely Gurley will be ready for the season and the plan is to be conservative with his healing process. They expect him to be the franchise back and you should expect a 20-touch per game star.”
Bucky Brooks concluded in a 2014 film room session on NFL.com that he prefers Gordon to Gurley:
“After hearing so much about the top running backs in the 2015/2016 classes, I assumed Gurley would win this comparison with ease. However, I was more impressed with Gordon's speed, acceleration and overall skills when I studied the tape. In fact, I believe Gordon is a complete running back with all of the skills to be a standout at the next level. He reminds me of a young Darren McFadden from a style standpoint, but I envision him becoming a more complete runner as a pro. While Gurley exhibits the skills to be a terrific pro, too, I would opt for Gordon as my pick at this time. It will be interesting to see if the comparison holds up throughout the fall.”