Todd Gurley’s decline over the last two seasons was nearly as stunning as the Rams’ blunder after their Super Bowl run in 2018.
The two almost go hand-in-hand.
While Los Angeles’ fall can be chalked up to a number of reasons — a near-impossible standard to maintain, a young, over-hyped coach and poor output from star players — Gurley’s is more simple: health.
His nagging knee, injured in college and again in Week 1 of the 2018 season and continuously affecting his output, including a 10 carry, 35 yard game in Super Bowl 53, has put him in a precarious situation at only 25 years old. The Rams, unable to find a trade partner, released Gurley in March. Less than 24 hours later, Gurley signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Falcons.
Atlanta had just released its star running back, Devonta Freeman, and battled its own set of injuries and a lowly output in the backfield in 2019. Is the key Gurley? Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has confidence in the star rusher but made a not-so-shocking admission earlier this week.
"The main question, that no one seems to know, is what is his health status?," Koetter said.
The deal doesn’t put the Falcons at too high of a risk, but betting on an injured player in a depreciating position could backfire. General manager Thomas Dimitroff is admittedly comfortable with Gurley’s questionable status, and the language of the contract. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gurley hasn't had a chance to get or pass a physical since the signing.
Aside from Koetter and Dimitroff, and obviously Gurley himself, there isn’t much confidence he could pass one. According to a March report from The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, there’s concern Gurley’s knee has worsened since he first tore his left ACL at Georgia. When the unidentified league source was asked how bad Gurley’s knee is now, they said "very bad."
What, if anything, can he bring to a run game that finished the 2019 season ranked 30th in the NFL?
Gurley played in 15 of 16 games for Los Angeles last season but averaged 17 touches (14.9 rushes and 2.1 receptions) per game — a career-low in a single season. He has shown he’s an exceptional runner, a pass-catching threat and equally good in pass protection. In 2017, he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2093) and total touchdowns (19) — in 2018, he was also the league leader in total touchdowns (21) — and didn’t miss a single block in pass protection that season. He was awarded the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. But, as we all know, Gurley isn’t the same rusher he once was.
"We've seen what he can do, his accolades speak for themselves," Koetter said. "We just have to see how healthy he is and how consistently he can do it. He can still do it, it's just a matter of how often can he do it?"
The good news for Gurley, aside from passing a physical, is the familiarity he’ll have with Atlanta’s system. The Falcons and Rams use a similar philosophy and terminology, and Atlanta’s committee approach will keep Gurley’s carries down; Koetter already has an undisclosed number in mind.
Gurley will get help from Ito Smith and Brian Hill. Both played RB2: first, it was Smith before a season-ending injury moved Hill into the role. The Falcons also have Qadree Ollison in the running back room, giving them plenty of options; something they had to utilize in 2019 with various injuries and the departure of Tevin Coleman.
"I’m a big believer that it’s not just about one person running all of the runs, of course," Dimitroff said earlier this month. "We’re a big mix-up team. We think that’s a very important part of making sure that we rotate our guys through there. They all come to the table with different positives and different traits, of course, and I would not — I’m a big believer in making sure that you have the mix."
Gurley’s sweet spot could be in that 15-20 range. Last season, Freeman averaged 17.3 touches (13.1 rushes and 4.2 receptions) per game.
If the Falcons’ offensive line improves, after they invested so much into last season, and Gurley is healthy, it’s hard to see Gurley not returning to a similar 2017 form. But those are big ifs.
- Aug 17, 2022
- Aug 17, 2022