The 2015 NFL Draft might be more than eight months away, but the early narrative about this year’s likely class of prospects is that the running back position might finally produce a first-round talent after two consecutive years without one in the top-32 picks.
Todd Gurley (Georgia) is one of the first and most popular names mentioned when referencing the 2015 class of running backs, as he’s expected to declare at season’s end and challenge for the position’s supremacy. As we get ready to start the 2014 college football season, I wanted to take a closer look at Gurley’s game.
Todd Gurley, Georgia | 6010, 226 lbs | Jr.
-Has started 22 games at RB for Georgia since 2012
-Named 2nd Team All-SEC in ’13
-Became only the second UGA freshman RB to run for 1,000 (Herschel Walker)
-Considered a 4 star prospect coming out of high school
-Has totaled 387 carries, 2,374 yards (6.1 YPC), and 27 TDs over the last two years
-Will be only 20 years old on Draft weekend
Gurley possesses the kind of overall frame and physicality as a running back that is exciting. He is every bit of 226 lbs, and his weight is evenly distributed between a muscular upper-body and thick legs. His lower-body composition allows for Gurley to generate a lot of power while also maintaining balance when running through contact. Simply put, he is one of those unique prospects that looks like he was born to play his position.
While not the most explosive or quick-twitch athlete, Gurley shouldn’t be confused for a guy who can’t break a 50(+) yard run in the NFL. He possesses enough long speed to outrun defensive backs to the end zone, but his lack of initial quickness will likely limit those opportunities on the next level. Gurley has good feet and takes efficient and effective steps when running with the football, but he’s not “quick footed” and won’t be able to dance his way out of many traffic jams in the pros. That said, he’s extremely coordinated and possesses very good balance. His plus (+) balance allows for him to gain the extra yard or two that most other prospects will fail to produce. What he lacks in overall quickness he makes up for with his body control and pop behind his pads; he’s plenty athletic enough, when combining all variables, to be a factor in the NFL. While this comp is likely to be made quite a bit leading up to next year’s Draft, Gurley’s athleticism reminds me a lot of Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks.) Lynch possesses a deceptive athletic ability; you don’t think he can run by you until he does. Gurley is very similar in that regard.
Gurley is a powerful back who runs aggressively and behind his pads. He does a nice job navigating inside running plays between the tackles, hitting the play’s aiming point with violence. Gurley exhibits good vision, utilizing a strong jump cut to re-direct to open spaces as well as the instincts needed to set up his blocks once he gets to the second level. He doesn’t shy away from contact and plays like an old-school back who welcomes collisions. He certainly projects as a player capable of producing on inside running plays in the pros with an added benefit at the goal line. I’m confident in his ability to convert in short-yardage situations and to pound the rock into the end zone.
On outside runs, Gurley (again) does a nice job setting up his blocks and digging his foot in the dirt to head upfield. He has more wiggle than I expected to see, but he won’t be a “make you miss” runner in the NFL. That said, he’ll be a challenge for second and third level defenders to bring to the ground and is likely to chew up a lot of yards after contact once he gets past the first wave of defensive linemen. I don’t see him being a very consistent or explosive outside running threat, but as noted above, he has deceptive speed; once he gets into the open field, he’ll be tough to chase down.
I like Gurley’s ability in the passing game. He shows a tough skill set as a pass protector as well as a smooth set of hands as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s a complete back who is capable of coming in and contributing on passing downs early in his career.
Todd Gurley, if healthy, will be one of the offensive stars of the 2014 college football season. He’s going to rack up a lot of rushing yards and TDs in the SEC and will enter the NFL Draft process as a contender for the first round. I think Gurley has a skill set that warrants consideration in the top 32, but I can’t say at this point that he is a lock to receive a first-round grade from me. His lack of elite explosive ability is something that gives me pause. That said, he is a complete back that projects as a starting quality NFL prospect.
Follow Bryan Perez on Twitter: @FirstRoundGrade