With the “nightmare” 2016 over, can Gurley wake up to new beginnings?

The Elephant in the Room

Everyone wants to know if Todd Gurley‘s 2016 season was a fluke or if it was a preview of what’s to come. Gurley has all the physical attributes you would want in a starting running back. He’s big. The speed and quickness are there. Gurley can even break a tackle and leap over a defender.

But there’s a glaring problem: he lacks field vision.

You could make the argument that Gurley suffered in 2016 because of the offensive line. You wouldn’t be wrong in that position. You also wouldn’t be completely in the right, either. While lanes were often plugged, Gurley missed quite a few running lanes that were wide open. In his rookie season, Gurley hit the hole immediately and found running lanes that led to daylight. As teams adjusted and stacked the boxes, Gurley’s impatience cost him.

In 2015, Gurley had one of the highest yards-after-contact averages with 2.87, according to ProFootallFocus (PFF). In 2016, that average took a nose dive and dropped him down to one of the lowest averages. He dropped down to 2.18.

With Sean McVay’s news offense, Gurley’s been nothing but a fan. There is more complexity and focus on formation. Add in more focus on zone-blocking, something the Rams tried (and failed at) last year, and you could see Gurley return to form.

Who Guards the Guardian?

Behind Gurley, there are a slew of younger players and newcomers, all vying for the back-up roles in the offense. Among them being Lance Dunbar, Malcolm Brown, Aaron Green, Justin Davis, and Lenard Tillery. 

Dunbar, Brown, and Green stand the greatest chance of making the roster. If the season started today, Brown would be second behind Gurley, followed by Green and Dunbar.

Brown and Green are like two aspects of Gurley’s running game; power and speed. Brown is the more powerful of the two. He makes his bones in-between the tackles and can grind the ball forward. Green is the speedy, pass-catcher that can run a route from the backfield or run a curl up the middle if no one is open.

It’s hard to get a true read on Brown and Green. Both had great preseason showcases last year. But they were non-factors in the offense during the regular season. I don’t think it had anything to do with their talent and ability. I think then-offensive coordinator Rob Boras went with who he felt gave the team their best shot. With McVay’s offense, there might be a greater opportunity for them to show what they can really bring.

There Will be Blood, Eventually

Dunbar was a solid balanced back with the Cowboys before his ACL injury in 2015. Since then, he’s struggled to regain what he was brought to the table. There’s no guarantee he will be a significant use to the offense. If Aaron Green has an impressive camp, Dunbar might slip to No. 3 on the chart.

Davis and Tillery have the lowest chances of making the roster.

Davis is the hometown favorite of the two, being a former USC Trojan. Other than his alumni status, the positives are lacking. He has decent speed and possesses very quick feet. But there isn’t anything, from what I have seen, that separates him from the pack. At USC, he benefited a lot from good blocking, which allowed him to run freely. But once a defender squared up, Davis went to the ground rather easily.

Tillery is a small-school guy with speed. He can carry the ball well and makes for a solid receiver. He led the SWAC all-time leading rusher after walking onto the team. But the difference between the competition at Southern and the NFL is staggering. He has an uphill battle to climb, and he might be cut due to numbers.