There is little doubt that the NFL scouting community agrees with Georgia head coach Mark Richt's recent assessment of Todd Gurley as a blue-chip talent, but the devaluation of the running back position threatened to diminish his value in the 2015 draft prior to his season-ending knee injury.
Running backs were once viewed in the NFL as marquee offensive players as recently as a decade ago, when three runners were selected within the first five picks of the 2005 draft, but general managers and scouts no longer hold the position in high regard despite the importance coaches continue to place on the running game.
Looking at the top 10 rushers in the NFL heading into Week 14, there is only one first-round pick (Marshawn Lynch) that dots the list. He is joined by four former second-round picks (Le'Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte and Eddie Lacy), a pair of third-round selections (Jamaal Charles and DeMarco Murray), a sixth-rounder (Alfred Morris), a seventh-round pick (Justin Forsett) and a player who went undrafted (Arian Foster).
Given the comparable production generated by running backs outside of Round 1, there has been a seismic shift throughout the league on the draft value on runners. Teams no longer view spending a top pick on a runner as a necessity when the data shows that Pro Bowl-caliber runners can be identified in the later stages of the draft.
Thus, Gurley was likely viewed as a borderline first-round selection in meeting rooms around the league prior to the torn ACL that ended his junior season last month.
While executives around the league were certainly fascinated by his tantalizing combination of size, speed, burst and physicality at the position, they were unlikely to place a premium on nabbing a running back early in the first round when it appears there could be a wealth of options at the position (Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Miami's Duke Johnson) that might offer better value at the bottom of Round 1 or on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3).
With decision makers carefully surveying the landscape of supply and demand at all positions, it's easier to place a running back on the backburner when recent history suggests that a team can find a dominant player in later rounds. That certainly doesn't diminish Gurley's talent or potential, but the collective success of the "outsiders" (running backs selected outside of the first round) threatens to diminish his draft value far more than his ACL injury in meeting rooms across the league.