Under the Microscope: Todd Gurley


After seeing star freshman running back Isaiah Crowell get kicked off the team following his 2011 season, the Georgia Bulldogs had no problem with the next man up. That “next man” was Todd Gurley. As a freshman in 2012, Gurley dominated some of the best defenses in the country and was a vital piece to Georgia’s win over Florida, which was Florida’s only regular season loss that year. It was easy to see that he would be one of the best collegiate running backs for the next few years.

But collegiate dominance does not necessarily mean NFL dominance. As the draft season has approached, opinions are becoming more split on Gurley than ever before. Many still believe him to be a bonafide first round running back, while others seem to think he could end up just like Trent Richardson. The real Gurley lies somewhere in the middle.

Simply put, Gurley is a speed and power running back, and his 6’1″, 230 pound frame is fit for that. In a straight line, Gurley is a menacing player that can beat any defender 1-on-1 because of his physical ability. In many cases, Gurley has displayed daunting power without having gained much momentum. At the line of scrimmage, this is a great asset because running lanes can get clogged and force Gurley to take hits before the line of scrimmage.

In space, Gurley is even tougher to tackle head on due to his size/speed/power combination that enables him to move with scary momentum. Tackling him low is asking to lose the play, but at the same time, tackling him high is quite the task, as well. Gurley carries a lot of weight in his upper body, which makes him tough to topple over when you consider the firmness in his legs.

“Speed” is a word that goes a bit underused in regards to Gurley, and that is because Gurley is an illusionist. Size be damned, Gurley has some burners. Georgia even let him return a few kicks and, not counting penalties, Gurley took a couple of those back to the house this season.

On this play, Florida linebacker Antonio Morrison blows his coverage and lets Gurley in space, where he then forces one Gator safety to rake a poor angle and outruns another chasing Gator defensive back. But look at him, he is looks so slow. His style is clunky and ugly, but Gurley is a great example of football not being a fashion show. How it looks doesn’t matter when you get results like that.

While his style has no poor correlation with the result of his top end speed, there is a glaring issue with his flexibility. For running backs, hip fluidity and the ability to bend on one’s own axis is huge, but Gurley is a very stiff runner. He runs upright and can only get low if he is running in a straight path. If he tries to get low and turn the edge, he is too slow to execute and he loses the hole.

The third-year back tries to get low to change his direction for this cutback, but in doing so, he locks up and falls over, resulting in a loss of yards. For many other running backs, including mediocre talents, this play ends up more positively because they have more fluid hips.

This hurts Gurley more in space than it does at the line, though. Whereas others like Melvin Gordon and Duke Johnson can change direction with ease, Gurley takes time to transition and loses speed in the process. His turns around the edge have to be sharp and much easier for an oncoming safety to read, but guys like Gordon and Johnson can take more rounded routes and finish with a burst of speed at the apex to throw off a safety’s angle.

Gurley can not create that burst either because he is a plodding runner that takes time to generate momentum. Granted, he is nearly impossible to tackle when he is moving at full speed, but that process often takes too much time. He does not possess the same start/stop gear that others in this class seem to have.

To a less concerning degree, Gurley’s vision can be problematic. At times, he finds cutback lanes and turns doomed runs into first downs. Other times, he either does not trust what he sees or just doesn’t see a glaring rushing lane. The flashes of high-end vision are relieving, but vision is certainly an area in which Gurley leaves more to be desired.

Take this play for example. A gaping hole opens up to his right, but Gurley runs straight into the back of his own linemen. Wasted run.

As a runner, Gurley is a slow-developing back that can move piles at the line and dominate when given space to build-up, but also leave yards on the field when operating horizontally in space and at the line of scrimmage. His speed/power/size blend can make up for his lack of fluidity, though his lack of fluidity will always make him a limited, linear runner.

That said, versatility as a three down player is becoming more critical than ever, and that favors Gurley.

Though he is not a super quick or shifty player, Gurley is a useful receiving back because of the space it can allow him to operate in. He won’t be a guy who catches passes 15 yards down the field, but letting him catch flares and short ours will give him the easily accessible space that he can eat up. He is not a stellar receiving option, but he is serviceable.

In pass pro, Gurley is both good and bad. Gurley understands his assignments and gets there to execute them, but he often takes on blockers with a skinny base in which rushers with 20-plus pounds over him can force him off balance. Luckily, the base issue is much easier to fix than it would be to get him to have a more natural feel of picking up blitzers and staying true to his assignment, so he is more than fine in this are.

Gurley can be a three down back. He has the rushing ability, receiving serviceability and pass blocking fluidity.

To most clearly project Todd Gurley’s NFL success, look at Eddie Lacy. Lacy was and is a size/speed/power type that is more dominant when given the space to generate momentum. Also, Lacy had middling vision early on, but he had flashes and built upon those to become the more consistent running back that he is now. Now, Lacy landed in an ideal situation for a prospect like himself and Gurley may not get that luxury, but there are a lot of similarities between the two as prospects and what they both can be.

Talent-wise, Gurley is a mid-2nd round type, but position value drops him to the third round. As said earlier, he will be somewhat limited and it would be a mistake to spend a top 62 pick on a runner like that who would need a perfect Lacy-type situation to 100% maximize his potential. He is clearly talented, but nowadays, it takes a special talent at running back to be able to be considered a first or second round pick value and Gurley is not that type of talent.

Next: Under the Microscope: Randy Gregory