At a time when running backs are seemingly being devalued on draft boards around the NFL, Todd Gurley has an opportunity to change the perception about the position.
Yes, I'm sure scouts are wrestling with concerns over his recovery from a torn ACL suffered last November, despite the former Georgia standout being widely viewed as the most talented runner in his class. Though he's been tabbed as a legitimate top-10 prospect based on his potential, production and impact as a feature runner, spending an early pick on a running back when help at the position is routinely found in the later stages of the draft certainly seems like a risk. And I understand the worries over Gurley's durability and viability. But I firmly believe he's a transcendent talent, an impact playmaker with all of the blue-chip characteristics typically found in perennial Pro Bowlers.
Measuring 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds with exceptional speed and quickness, Gurley projects as a prototypical power back in the NFL. He is a violent inside runner with the physicality, toughness and grit to excel between the tackles. In addition to exhibiting the strength and power to run through contact in the hole, he displays impressive vision, balance and body control with the ball in his hands. Gurley is a rare big back capable of executing multiple jump cuts in the hole -- and he also aggressively attacks seams between the tackles. As an outside runner, Gurley shows explosive speed, quickness and burst turning the corner. He runs away from defenders on the perimeter and has the potential to score from anywhere on the field.
Although questions will persist about Gurley's top-end speed following his ACL tear, the fact that he ran the 60-meter hurdles in 8.12 seconds during his time at Georgia -- the seventh-fastest mark in school history -- suggests that he is a world-class athlete unlikely to completely lose his burst and acceleration after an injury.
As a pass catcher, Gurley exhibits strong hands and natural receiving skills, effortlessly catching the ball out of the backfield on screens and swing routes. Most importantly, he is an underrated route runner capable of executing every route in the playbook. Given the impact that a big-bodied back with receiving skills can make in the backfield, the ability to land a pure "three-down" running back should have scouts and coaches salivating over Gurley and his long-term potential.
Looking ahead to how Gurley's game could shape up at the next level, I believe he is a Marshawn Lynch clone capable of carrying an offense on his back with his versatile skills. He is a rare find at the position, a bell-cow RB adept at running from one- and two-back sets. With Gurley also displaying exceptional hands and receiving skills, he is the prototypical feature back that every decision maker covets as the centerpiece of a balanced offense.
Here are five potential fits for Gurley:
San Diego Chargers (No. 17 overall pick)
The loss of Ryan Mathews via free agency robbed the Chargers of a fine talent in the backfield. Injuries limited the former first-round pick's output, but there was no denying his impact and production when healthy: He posted a pair of 1,000-yard seasons for the Chargers and earned Pro Bowl honors in 2011, when he finished with 1,091 rushing yards and 50 receptions as a second-year starter. With Mathews now in Philly, the Bolts need to find a dynamic feature back who can deliver spectacular production as a runner and receiver. Gurley certainly fits the bill as a thumper with soft hands and exceptional receiving skills. He would give San Diego coach Mike McCoy a true three-down back with the potential to anchor a power running game and make key contributions as a receiver on early downs. Most importantly, Gurley would command the attention of opposing defensive coordinators, allowing quarterback Philip Rivers to throw against eight-man fronts with one-on-one coverage on the outside. This would enhance the Chargers' attack, making one of the most efficient offensive units even more productive.
Baltimore Ravens (No. 26)
The Ravens stumbled onto a 1,000-yard runner in Justin Forsett last season, but counting on the veteran journeyman to be a long-term solution is risky, based on his age and résumé. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff would be wise to take a long, hard look at Gurley as their workhorse back of the future. Given how he shined as a feature back in the Bulldogs' power-based ground attack, I'd expect Gurley to find similar success as the lead runner in Baltimore's scheme. Most importantly, Gurley would serve as the rugged runner the Ravens need to thrive against the hard-hitting defenses of the AFC North. This team is looking for a young, physical running back to build around, thus Gurley landing in Baltimore is a realistic possibility.
Dallas Cowboys (No. 27)
With the Cowboys having allowed the NFL's leading rusher in 2014 to depart as a free agent, the pressure is on owner Jerry Jones to find a Pro Bowl-caliber performer in the backfield to anchor his potent ground attack. And Gurley is a prime candidate to replace DeMarco Murray as the marquee ball-carrier in Dallas. He is a downhill runner with exceptional vision, balance and body control, and he could surely terrorize opponents behind the powerful offensive line in Big D. In the passing game, Gurley's soft hands, superb ball skills and underrated route-running ability would make him the perfect replacement for Murray, who snagged 57 passes last season, playing a vital role as Tony Romo's trusted safety valve. Gurley could capably fill Murray's shoes in the aerial attack and give the Cowboys the thump they need to run roughshod over opponents in the NFC.
Indianapolis Colts (No. 29)
The Andrew Luck-led Colts have been labeled a finesse team, due to the pass-happy nature of the offense in recent years, but coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton would prefer to run an offense that smashes opponents behind a physical running game. Accordingly, Indy added five-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore this offseason. And while Gore could spark the unit with his rugged running style, the 10-year veteran is nearing the end of his career, and the Colts should have a replacement at the ready. Gurley is a perfect candidate to fill the role. He does the majority of his damage between the tackles, yet he also possesses the speed and quickness to turn the corner on outside runs. With Gurley additionally exhibiting outstanding skills as a receiver out of the backfield, adding him to an offense directed by one of the best young passers in the game would strike fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators around the AFC.
Pete Carroll is seemingly one of the few coaches remaining in the league who believes the running game is the backbone of a championship offense. The wily head man has watched Marshawn Lynch rush for at least 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in each of the past four seasons, including 1,306 rushing yards and a career-best 13 touchdowns in 2014. Of course, with the 28-year-old running back also contemplating retirement after each of thepast two seasons, it's time for the Seahawks to find his successor. Gurley is a "Beast Mode" clone with the size, vision and body control to wreak havoc on opponents on inside runs. He also displays the physicality, grit and toughness to fill Lynch's role in Seattle as the offensive tone-setter. Seattle doesn't currently have a first-round pick, having shipped the 31st overall selection to the Saints as part of a trade for Jimmy Graham, but should the team find itself in the position to pick Gurley, he could be just the back to help maintain the continuity of Seattle's championship-caliber offense. And while the Seahawks' first pick doesn't come until No. 63, they have the most selections in the draft (11), which could allow for some wheeling and dealing.