Why Won't Anyone Give Todd Gurley a Chance?

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2021

Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) looks on prior to an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Kevin Sabitus)
Kevin Sabitus/Associated Press

It wasn't too long ago when Todd Gurley was one of the NFL's best running backs and most dangerous offensive weapons.

Fast-forward to now, and at the age of 27, Gurley can't even get a roster spot.

Even at a supposedly devalued position that chews up and spits out players with regularity, it's an alarming development for Gurley's career path.

In 2017 with the Los Angeles Rams, Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns with another 788 receiving yards and six scores. The following summer, the Rams rewarded Gurley with a four-year extension worth $57.5 million.

By March 2020, the Rams had made Gurley a post-June 1 cut to save cap space.

Plenty went wrong for Gurley in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He suffered a left knee injury at the start of the 2018 season that he dealt with all year, missed two games and carried the ball only 30 times over three postseason games, including just 10 attempts during a Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

He then missed one game in 2019 with a left quad injury. He reportedly had arthritis in his knee.

The one thing that never changed? Gurley was still plenty productive, rushing for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry in 2018. He scored 12 more times in 2019, albeit on 3.8 yards per carry. (Rams head coach Sean McVay referred to himself as an "idiot" for not using Gurley more). And when the Atlanta Falcons gave him a chance in 2020, he appeared in 15 games, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and scoring nine times.

Not that Gurley could escape the injury questions. Even after Gurley signed with Atlanta, Jeff Schultz of The Athletic reported the health of his knee was still "very bad."

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

With that 35-yard rush TD, Todd Gurley has now scored 75 touchdowns in his career. He becomes just the 5th player in NFL history to record 75 touchdowns before his 27th birthday, joining Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Jim Brown, LaDainian Tomlinson and Randy Moss. https://t.co/IZURf9vnwq

NFL Research @NFLResearch

Most Total Touchdowns Per Game NFL History, Min. 10 Games HOF Jim Brown 1.07 WAS Antonio Gibson 1.00 PIT Chase Claypool 1.00 HOF LaDainian Tomlinson 0.95 ATL Todd Gurley 0.95 HOF Steve Van Buren 0.93 @WashingtonNFL

In the day of committee backfields, Gurley clearly has the talent to contribute. He was on a bad team last year yet scored those nine times on 195 attempts and was targeted 35 times through the air. His approximate value of six wasn't the ridiculous 19 or 16 it was in 2017 and 2018, but it showed he can help an offense.

But nobody seems interested.

When the Rams lost surefire breakout starter Cam Akers to a season-ending Achilles injury in June, Gurley's name didn't come up. Maybe because of the $8.4 million in dead money the Rams are carrying from his last stint with the team?

But the Baltimore Ravens just landed in a similar spot when starter J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team's preseason finale, and Josina Anderson reported the Ravens don't have any interest in Gurley.

Odd, considering Gurley visited the Ravens in June. Baltimore would rather lean on Gus Edwards, who has 414 carries on his resume over three seasons, and Ty'Son Williams, who went undrafted, spent most of last year on the practice squad and hasn't gotten a ton of work since a torn left ACL cut short his senior season at BYU in 2019.

Add Atlanta and the Detroit Lions to the pile, too. The Falcons didn't show interest in bringing back Gurley, and nothing came of Gurley's May visit with the Lions—even though they let the 35-year-old Adrian Peterson swipe 156 carries from D'Andre Swift last season to the tune of 3.9 yards per carry. Atlanta instead added Mike Davis, a journeyman on his fifth team, and former wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Some of this is just a numbers game. The most expendable position gets an infusion of talent every summer from the draft. From a team's perspective, the fact that Gurley is a known commodity is probably a detriment—think about how many "unknowns" who went undrafted break out every preseason, if not when they get a chance in the regular season (Williams' strong summer is probably why the Ravens are comfortable passing on Gurley).

And if this feeling by teams of anyone can break out is accurate (it's at least understandable), why not stockpile younger talent? Gurley is only 27, but he carried the ball 510 times and had 65 catches, plus a serious left knee injury that started all of this, over three seasons at Georgia. He's added 1,460 carries and 243 catches in six seasons in the pros plus the injury woes.

In short, Gurley might be the most dramatic representation of the position's pitfalls. Is his journey any different from, say, Le'Veon Bell's? He has displayed continued production, even on a rotational basis. But his upside is capped. If a guru such as Andy Reid didn't have much need for Bell, it says it all about the position. (Bell also remains a free agent.)

Rest assured Gurley remains on the short list of veterans teams will dial up during the season if they need help. He's a stable, proven presence who can handle 200ish touches with predictable results, and he doesn't need much practice to get in the swing of things.

But even though he was one of the best offensive players in the NFL just three seasons ago, Gurley plays running back, and teams would rather work with upside there than the production floor Gurley provides.