Brendan Abban | January 31st, 2020
This season was an up and down year for Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley, to say the least. Gurley in recent years has always been in the conversation of best running back in the NFL. Particularly, because of his multi-faceted game and skillset. However, this season such chatter diminished for quite a few reasons.
Gurley has led the NFL in total touches from scrimmage (1,483) since his rookie year. The second closest person in terms of touches during that span was Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott with 1,358. He was the featured weapon in the Rams offense that would jump-start the passing game. In 2018, Gurley had 315 touches from scrimmage for 1,831 yards which were both fourth amongst the rest of the NFL. He also led the NFL in total touchdowns (21) while averaging 5.8 yards per touch.
This came during a time period when Gurley was still within his athletic prime. His burst and acceleration were on full display. Particularly, his physicality and overall aggression while running. A running back that makes a defense contemplate tackling them due to physical punishment and mental exhaustion is special. There was a point where that was a week in and week out reality with Gurley. However, things did change towards the end of that season going into 2019.
The best RB in the league?
— NFL (@NFL) October 15, 2018
Gurley’s touches took a nose dive to finish out the 2018 season. He went from 22.5 touches through the first 14 games down to 11.3 in the playoffs. It was more of the same throughout the 2019 campaign as well. His overall touches fell to 17 a game, the lowest total of his career. Lack of touches plays a role in Gurley’s diminishing returns but so do the injuries.
While the Rams organization has never confirmed or denied the root of Gurley’s struggles on the field, injury is cited as the main reason. Particularly, arthritis in the same knee Gurley had surgery on when coming out of Georgia.
Rams running back Todd Gurley has arthritis in his knee, according to a source. Helps explain his limited usage in the playoffs.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) March 2, 2019
This is a direct correlation to his dip in usage in the 2018 playoffs and throughout 2019. The Rams instituted their own form of “load management” when it came to Gurley. Although, head coach Sean McVay denies the assertion:
“It has nothing to do with that. It was really just, you’re just kind of working through the 2019 season – the best way to utilize all of our players and figuring out what our identity is. I think we’re still working through that, but didn’t have anything to do with (load management).”
While this might be McVay’s claim, the numbers and tape say differently. The Rams offense leaned more on quarterback Jared Goff this year in every form and it suffered for it. In 2018 Goff threw 35 passes per game versus 2019 where he threw 39 passes per game. The offense became Goff-centric versus their Gurley identity that they had over the two previous seasons. Gurley’s scrimmage yards went from 1,831 in 2018 to 1,064 in 2019. Of course, other factors such as overall team health and playcalling contribute to this outcome. However, it is hard to ignore Gurley’s health moving forward.
Looking to the Future
The Rams made it to their first Super Bowl in nearly two decades in 2018 and much of that was due to Gurley’s productivity. It will be interesting to see if the Rams can return to their previous form where they took the rest of the NFL by storm. The better question is if Gurley can return to his Offensive Player of the Year form. While Goff might be the quarterback, Gurley is just as important towards future team success. Similar to the status of Gurley’s health, much of the future is unknown and everyone will have to wait and see.
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images