Todd Gurley is in the midst of one of the NFL’s great rollercoaster careers – and the running back has the chance to swing the narrative again after signing with the Atlanta Falcons the same week that he was released by the Los Angeles Rams.
While the question marks over his durability and injury history are justified given the severity of the knee injury that derailed his quest to rewrite the record books, a change of scene might just re-ignite the 25-year-old.
Ups, downs and injury
Gurley burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2015 (1,106 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns), but his sophomore year was a disappointment (885 rushing yards, six touchdowns, just 3.2 yards per carry). The arrival of Sean McVay as Rams head coach got Gurley back on track – and that is an understatement (over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns). Gurley’s pedestrian 2016 campaign was quickly a distant memory as he emerged as the most explosive running back in the NFL.
A skilled receiver in addition to his bruising rushing, Gurley led the charge towards the playoffs in 2018 too. He flew out of the blocks, only for wear and tear to catch up with him in the form of pain in his left knee. By the latter stages of that season, he looked less dangerous than backup C.J. Anderson and was increasingly watching from the sidelines. The Rams reached the Super Bowl regardless, but Gurley was held to 35 rushing yards from 10 carries, two weeks after recording just a paltry 10 yards on four carries in the NFC Championship Game.
McVay and his Los Angeles coaching staff preached patience and a lighter workload for Gurley last season as a formula for getting him back to his more dynamic self. But the lingering effects of his knee injury hovered over the team., and Jared Goff struggled without peak Gurley flanking him.
A fresh start
That brings us to 2020 and Gurley’s opportunity to resurrect a career that appears to be tailing off at a time when he should be hitting his prime. The Falcons are singing a similar tune to the Rams in terms of how sharing the backfield work could unlock an extra gear for Gurley. Atlanta have depth at running back, despite releasing Devonta Freeman, but much will depend on how the offensive line performs.
It is likely too soon to write Gurley off, but it does highlight once again how rapidly running backs can see their production fall off a cliff. He signed a whopping four-year, $60M deal, with $45M of it guaranteed, at the height of his powers in Los Angeles – a contract that felt like a reach even at the time despite his elite production. Last month, the Falcons scooped him up with a one-year, $5.5M pact.
Running lanes in Atlanta
With defenses forced to honour Julio Jones’ ability to be a one-man wrecking crew in the passing game, Atlanta feels like the right landing spot for Gurley. Head coach Dan Quinn is fighting for his job – and that should translate to a prominent role for Gurley, especially early in the season. Tom Brady’s arrival in Tampa Bay means the NFC South should be as competitive as ever.
Gurley is one of several running backs who enter 2020 surrounded by speculation and, in some corners, scepticism. Can Le’Veon Bell really elevate the New York Jets? Will Melvin Gordon play up to the level of his two-year, $16M contact in Denver? Will Chris Carson look as sharp in Seattle after the second serious injury of his short career? The list goes on.
Those answers will only come once the 2020 season kicks off, but do not rule out a bounceback year for Gurley as his fascinating career enters a new chapter.