Todd Gurley Is Too Good to Pass Up in the First Round of the NFL Draft

Matt Bowen NFL National Lead WriterMarch 28, 2015

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Drafting a running back in the first round can be viewed as a negative due to the short shelf life at the position. These guys take a pounding at the pro level; the carries add up, and injuries can force a quick decline once they lose the burst in their legs.

That's why we see so many NFL teams invest in the position during the later rounds of the draft—or even with undrafted college free agents—to find value at the position. Think of running backs that can carry the load in a professional backfield for three to four years before they are replaced with the next group of mid-to-late-tier prospects.

However, when you see a special talent on tape, a difference-maker at the position like Georgia's Todd Gurley, can you afford to pass on a player who should bring a Day 1 impact to your offense?

With Gurley, I just put on the tape and let it roll. He's a star: a power back with an NFL frame (6'1", 222 pounds) who rips through tackles and drops his pad level to punish defenders at the second level; a physical, violent runner who welcomes contact to grind out yards after the first hit.

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Todd Gurley #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs leaps over Taylor Maxey #47 as he rushes against the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This is where you see the balance, the lower-body strength to keep his pads square and absorb contact before redirecting in the open field. Similar to the running style of Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, the former Georgia back isn't going down with an arm tackle or on a hit from a safety who lunges at the point of attack. That won't get it done against Gurley. He's just too powerful. 

A back with good vision, Gurley can find running room in both zone and power schemes to attack the hole. And when he sees daylight, it's one cut and go. Stick the foot in the ground and accelerate up the field to attack the secondary. He has a burst that jumps off the film. It's impressive. 

Here's an example from the Georgia-Tennessee matchup this past season, with Gurley making one cut on an inside zone scheme to find a lane and expose the defensive pursuit.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

This is the "speed through the hole" we always hear scouts and coaches talk about with pro backs. They expose the pursuit and eliminate angles from the secondary to produce explosive gains against undisciplined defenses.

That creates a one-on-one matchup in the open field where Gurley can beat the free safety and take the ball into the end zone for six points. 

Take a look at one more example from the Georgia-Clemson matchup on the "buck sweep" out of an "I" backfield alignment (pull both guards, lead with the fullback) to the boundary side (short side) of the field.

Credit: Draft Breakdown

Gurley shows the patience to read the block of the fullback (fits on the safety) and has to account for the unblocked defender (boundary cornerback). This is where we see the balance as he runs through the tackle attempt. After that, it's time to strike up the band and play the fight song.

Having played in a pro-style offense at Georgia, Gurley has been coached up in pass protection and can catch the ball out of the backfield. That's key to making the transition and staying on the field in the NFL during critical game situations. He's a true three-down player and doesn't have an enormous amount of wear and tear on his legs coming on to a bigger stage. 

The negative on Gurley is the knee injury, as the running back is going through the rehab process after tearing his ACL vs. Auburn this past year. He also missed some time in 2013 with an ankle injury. Gurley will have to get the knee tested before the draft, and teams have to take that into account when they finalize their grades.

The obvious question there is the recovery time. With ACL injuries, it can take up to an entire calendar year for skill-position players to regain the burst and lateral speed to play at the same level. That has to be part of the discussion.

There is some risk that Gurley is limited during his rookie season as he works through the process of regaining the strength and flexibility in the knee. 

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Todd Gurley #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs rushes for a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers at Sanford Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

However, if the knee checks out, Gurley is still the top back on the board in a pretty deep class that includes Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah. And the former Georgia Bulldog should hear his name called in the second half of the first round with teams such as the Chargers, Cowboys and Colts in a prime position to land the running back.  

Like I said above, there will be opportunities for teams to look for value at the position in the draft, with solid players available on Days 2 and 3. But when I watch a running back like Gurley, he's just too talented to pass up. Go get him. 

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.