The premise seemed simple enough: Due to the devaluation of the running back position and the depth of the 2015 draft class, any team that selected a running back in the first round of this year’s draft made a major mistake.
At least, this became part of the rationale I used in June when I railed against the St. Louis Rams’ selection of Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Nearly five months later, I couldn’t have been more wrong as chants of “Gurley! Gurley! Gurley!” echoed throughout the Edward Jones Dome.
Certain talents simply supersede sound logic. Gurley is already playing at an elite level through his first three starts and proved to be the exception to the rule.
As a result, the Rams’ running back quickly worked his way into the conversation and eventually began making a case as a Rookie of the Year candidate. After his monster performance against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Gurley has even surpassed those who have played the entire season.
The Baltimore native owns a rare combination of size, speed, athleticism and a natural ability to play football. This was never in question.
Two other concerns followed Gurley beyond his draft status—the position he played and the talent of his contemporaries.
First, the running back is less than a year removed from major reconstructive surgery after he tore the ACL in his left knee during a Nov. 15 contest against the Auburn Tigers. His recovery has been remarkable.
Prior to the start of the season, doctors cleared Gurley for full contact, but the Rams decided to slow-play his return to the gridiron and ease him into the lineup. The rookie didn’t even see the field until Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At the time, Gurley didn’t exactly burst onto the scene. The first-round runner only carried the ball six times for nine yards in his debut.
Things didn’t go much better for the Rams running back in the first half of the following week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. In the fourth quarter, however, Gurley exploded against the one of the league’s better defenses and ultimately ran for 146 yards to close out the Cardinals in the Rams’ 24-22 win.
He hasn’t looked back.
Part of the Gurley’s success extends to the Rams’ offensive line and its ability to open holes. An inexperienced line was a major concern entering the season, particularly since the entire right side is also comprised of rookies.
It was difficult to imagine Gurley—no matter how talented of a player he is—carrying an entire offense with questions at quarterback, the skill positions and along the line.
He’s been that player and more once since becoming the focal point of the offense.
In his initial three starts, the rookie ran for at least 128 yards each time, which makes him arguably the league’s most electric first-year player. In fact, Gurley finished 12 yards short of becoming the only rookie other than Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson to run for 140 or more yards in three straight contests.
“Keep it up,” Dickerson told Gurley after Sunday’s contest against the Cleveland Browns, according to St. Louis Rams Director of External Football Affairs Kyle Eversgerd.
The running back just oozes talent whenever he’s on the field.
Against the Browns, Gurley ran for 128 yards on only 19 carries. He also caught four passes for 35 yards. More importantly, the rookie scored twice to register his first career touchdowns. His talent was clearly on display during those runs.
As Brugler noted, the entire package was on display during the scoring play: speed to get to the outside, a decisive cut to get downhill, the suddenness to run past defenders near the line of scrimmage and the strength to easily shed arm tackles.
“He’s special,” Rams quarterback Nick Foles said after the game, per StLouisRams.com’s Myles Simmons. “There aren’t too many people who can run like that.”
The Browns and their 32nd-ranked run defense were in position to at least slow Gurley throughout the contest, but the rookie’s ability to run through contact trumped any type of scheme thrown at him.
While Gurley’s 128 yards Sunday was his lowest rushing total in the month of October, his ability to run through contact made him nearly unstoppable, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Rams built their entire identity this offseason around a strong run game that would eventually feature Gurley, and this year’s 10th overall pick hasn’t disappointed
Article written by Brent Sobleski
Photo credits by: lombardiave.com