NFL defenses know Gurley is option one, two, three, five and seven in Los Angeles' game plan. With Case Keenum under center and a gaggle of unimpressive receivers -- outside of Tavon Austin, who catches the majority of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage -- defenses can stack the box and dare the Rams' passing game to beat them.
In 2015, Gurley led all rookies, finished third in the NFL in rushing yards (1,106), despite missing three games, and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, the breakdown of his statistics displays a more nuanced story of Gurley's rookie season.
In his first four starts, Gurley rushed 22 times per game for 141.5 rush YPG, 6.4 yards per carry. In his last eight games as a starter, his numbers dropped to 3.9 yards per carry on 16.9 totes per game for 66.4 rushing YPG. That 2.5 yards per carry plummet had a lot to do with defenses not fearing the passing game.
Entering 2016, coach Jeff Fisher doesn't believe Gurley will take a step back, saying there is "no such thing as a sophomore slump" for running backs.
"I would assume that this thing's going to get better and better, as we get better up front ... and we're able to stay in games and get the ball in his hands," Fisher said, via the Los Angeles Times.
The Rams' offensive line looked more cohesive up front this preseason, but we need to see it against actual schemes before declaring it improved.
One aspect Gurley should be enhanced this year is his initial health and fitness. Last season, the running back was coming off an ACL tear, which caused him to miss the start of the season. We usually see an uptick in performance the second year after returning from an ACL injury.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman has experience returning from a shredded knee, after missing all of 2014. Bowman returned in 2015 and compiled a career-high 154 tackles. The linebacker, who will attempt to bring down Gurley on Monday night, believes the running back will be more explosive on his repaired knee in Year 2.
"I do. I expect him to feel a lot better than he did the year he came in and that's the reason he's looked like he is," Bowman said, via NinerNation.com. "He did what he did coming off an injury, imagine if he has a year under his belt. I'm sure he's coming in excited just like I was after my knee injury."
One skill Gurley said he improved on this offseason was his pass-catching after having only 21 receptions for 188 yards and no receiving TDs as a rookie.
"It's about time for me to get a receiving touchdown," he said. "This year, hopefully, I get at least one."