Georgia's Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall established themselves as one of the best running back tandems in college football last year.
The two combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns, and they accomplished all that as true freshmen. Both players have at least two more years to compete with each other for touches in college, but let's take a look at how they might compete for starting jobs in the NFL.
As it stands now, Todd Gurley is one of the top-two running backs in his draft class, along with T.J. Yeldon from Alabama. Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards in 2012 while leading the Bulldogs in carries. He also showed he has the durability and stamina to take a lead back role if necessary.
There are four aspects of Gurley's game that stand out:
- Stiff Arm: Gurley utilizes his stiff arm early and often. His 6'1" frame and long arms allow him to push defenders off and into the dirt when they attempt to tackle him below the waist.
- Trucking: Sometimes Gurley doesn't have an angle on a defender, so he can't deploy the stiff arm. So he runs over the defender instead. Through the 2012 season, Gurley added mass to his lower body that helps him truck through linebackers and safeties that he meets after he clears the line of scrimmage.
- Speed: The weight Gurley gained, as well as the wear and tear from the 2012 season, seemed to slow him down a notch toward the end. But he still has great speed to create separation and outrun defenders. If he can settle on the right weight-speed ratio this offseason, he should be better than ever.
- Vision: Gurley has great vision and decisiveness when picking holes to run through, which helps him avoid minimal and negative gains.
NFL Comparison: Adrian Peterson
While Keith Marshall didn't compile quite as many yards or carries as Gurley during the 2012 season, he also has the skills and potential of a lead back.
His game is all about speed and agility:
- Track Speed: While Todd Gurley has good speed, Marshall has jets. He has the speed to split two safeties down the middle and outrun the entire defense—and he did it multiple times in 2012. Not only is he one of the fastest players in college football, he would be one of the fastest players in the NFL.
- Change of Direction: Marshall's second greatest asset is his quick feet. He can cut from side to side, make defenders tackle air and then he's off to the races.
- Pass Catching: One of Marshall's most underused skills is his pass-catching ability. Seen in glimpses through the 2012 season, including a touchdown catch in the Capital One Bowl, Marshall has the speed and soft hands to be dangerous when used in space. He could make a living in the NFL catching screens and other passes out of the backfield.
NFL Comparison: C.J. Spiller
Which running back's skills project better to the NFL?
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are two different types of running back who complement each other very well in college.
But each players' individual skills could lead to a role as a starting running back in the NFL.
Gurley is more powerful and has better balance while Marshall is faster and has more upside as a receiving threat. Even though Todd Gurley may be the more heralded player now and potentially a higher draft pick, both players have a chance to do very well in professional football.