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Can Todd Gurley Overcome His Sophomore Slump?

Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley Fantasy 2017 Rebound?

Todd Gurley was selected with the 10th overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft, even though he had torn his ACL in November 2014, during what would become the final game of his collegiate career. While uncertainty existed concerning when he would be healthy enough for insertion into the lineup, the Rams believed that once the former Georgia Bulldog entered the field, he would instantly provide their talent-deficient offense with a big-play presence. As Gurley appeared fully capable of igniting an otherwise underwhelming attack that was desperate for someone with his game breaking ability. That scenario quickly transpired after Gurley became the team’s feature back in Week 4. When he established a new NFL record by bolting for 566 yards during his first four career starts while averaging 141 YPG during those contests. Once the season concluded, he had accumulated the third highest yardage total among all backs (1,106), was fifth with ten rushing touchdowns, fourth with a very respectable 85 YPG average, and eighth with a YPC average of 4.8. He also exploded for rushes of 20+ yards on 11 different plays, which was second only to Doug Martin. His production was generated in just 12 starts, and was impressive enough for Gurley to be named Rookie Of The Year.

[the_ad id=”66786″]As a result, owners were sufficiently enamored with him during the 2016 draft process that he garnered a lofty ADP of 2 in standard leagues. This placed him ahead of all running backs and was the understandable byproduct of Gurley’s excellent results during that initial campaign. However, his numbers plunged significantly in 2016, during what Todd Gurley himself characterized as a nightmare season. Nearly all of those aforementioned owners would agree, as he eventually finished just 17th among all rushers with 885 yards while averaging 55 YPG, and a paltry 3.2 YPC. He also manufactured just two runs of 20+ yards, and his touchdown total plunged to six. Worse, the widespread decrease in his production occurred even though he performed in all 16 regular season games. To a large extent, his disappointing output was the result of proverbial chickens returning to roost, as Gurley could not overcome the shortcomings of operating within a highly deficient Ram offense, that floundered under the uninspiring leadership of Jeff Fisher, and former OC Rob Boras.

Los Angeles not only finished dead last in total offense (263 YPG), but the team’s 31st ranked rushing attack only managed an abysmal 78 YPG. The futility of this unit was widespread, as they also ranked 31st in passing (184 YPG), and 32nd in scoring (14 PPG). Fortunately, the lingering ineptitude of the Fisher era has been eradicated, as 31-year old head coach Sean McVay will attempt to instill a vigorous new approach to the Ram attack. He served as the offensive coordinator for Washington from 2014-2016 and called plays for the past two seasons while working with the Redskins overall offensive architect Jay Gruden. McVay is also credited for his role in the development of Kirk Cousins, and both his energy and communication skills should be welcomed by the young Ram offense. As he attempts to revitalize the culture of a franchise that has not experienced a winning season since 2003.

Todd Gurley 2016 Gamelog

WeekOppScoreAttYardsY/ATDTgtRecYdsY/RTDTD
1SFOL 0-2817472.76031-5-500
2SEAW 9-319512.68011191900
3TAMW 37-3227853.15221-5-502
4ARIW 17-1319331.74055499.800
5BUFL 19-3023723.13153361201
6DETL 28-3114584.14044399.7500
7NYGL 10-1715573.8076355.8300
8Rams Bye Week
9CARL 10-1312484054266.500
10NYJW 9-621643.050118800
11MIAL 10-1420763.8120001
12NORL 21-4913503.85044399.7500
13NWEL 10-2611383.4503294.500
14ATLL 14-4216613.81143227.3301
15SEAL 3-2414382.71041-2-200
16SFOL 21-2223672.91133206.6701
17ARIL 6-4414402.86054379.2500
Total4-12-027888551.846584332796.3806

Several of McVay’s new hires will also play critical roles in determining Gurley’s degree of success. New offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur joins the team after two seasons as Atlanta’s quarterback’s coach. While offensive line coach Aaron Kromer migrates westward after functioning for two years in that same role with the Bills. LaFleur will be working in tandem with McVay on the overall offensive structure and weekly game plans. Plus, they will share the responsibility of helping Jared Goff make significant progress, in what is currently a prodigious growth curve. Their success in accomplishing this goal is essential if Gurley is to deliver more than simply moderate improvement with his numbers. Kromer will also have an arduous task awaiting him. As he must increase the proficiency of a weak offensive line, which was extremely substandard during even their best performances last season. Gurley will maintain some continuity amid the team’s coaching changes, as running back coach Skip Peete was retained. This occurred after Gurley called McVay and asked for another chance to work with Peete.

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Normally, a largely unproven coaching staff (on the offensive side of the ball), which is becoming accustomed to their new roles, could be a concern regarding Gurley’s ability to recreate the favorable output of his rookie year. But in this case, jettisoning the previous coaches is an unquestioned plus. Still, Golf’s highly disappointing rookie season, a shortage of playmaking receiving weapons (particularly if Kenny Britt departs via free agency), and the woeful offensive line, combine to form an alarming set of factors that could continue suppressing Gurley’s output. Unless there is a measurable improvement in these areas. Because it is essential that the Rams induce opponents to possess at least some level of respect for their passing attack. That would deter enemy defenses from deploying as many resources in the box, with the singular focus of stifling Gurley.

Todd GurleyWhile that presents an unsettling reality for anyone who is considering drafting Gurley, it is currently too early to know specifically how free agency and the NFL Draft will reshape the Los Angeles roster. We will receive more clarity regarding that transformation during the upcoming weeks, which will facilitate the process of forecasting Gurley’s level of production this season. That said, it is unlikely that the Rams’ offense can improve sufficiently to become a Top 15 unit, given the considerable number of roster deficiencies that currently exist for the newly created staff. But simply transitioning from the prehistoric approach that permeated the Fisher era in recent seasons, should give the attack a boost.

The belief from here is that despite the remaining obstacles, Gurley’s numbers will rise in comparison to last season. Plus, if Los Angeles can fortify its talent base so that the offensive line performs more efficiently, Goff is supplied with more viable receiving options, and the second year signal caller achieves anything beyond marginal improvement, then Gurley’s production will elevate even further. It is also critical to remember that he will have just turned 23 when the regular season commences. His attractive combination of size, speed, and awareness as a runner, blends with his age to make it highly premature for anyone to fully lose confidence in his ability to reemerge as an elite running back. Even though the inadequacies that surround him on the Rams could conspire to prohibit him from delivering output on the level of his rookie season, he simply possesses too much talent for such a hasty dismissal after one disappointing year. It is also conceivable that his role could actually be enhanced this season, if free agent Benny Cunningham signs elsewhere. For those reasons, I currently have Todd Gurley ranked 10th among running backs, and believe that he will approach 1,100 yards, and generate eight touchdowns on the ground. A prediction that could change after the Ram roster evolves during the upcoming weeks.

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