Todd Gurley Drafted in the Top 10: What His Addition Means in St. Louis
The 6’1”, 222-pound running back will be just 21 years old at the start of the 2015 NFL season. His talent is not in question, but his durability certainly is after suffering a season-ending ACL injury Mid-November. Still, Todd Gurley was considered the best running back prospect in the draft, and became the first running back taken in the first round since 2012 (Trent Richardson, who was drafted third).
Before being lost for the season, Gurley averaged 7.4 yards per carry on 123 carries with 9 touchdowns on the ground. Gurley's also a threat as a receiver. Although he didn’t get into the end zone through the air in 2014, his 2013 stats showed how explosive he can be as a receiver. With 37 receptions in 2013, Gurley gained 441 yards (11.9 average) and scored 6 touchdowns.
On the ground, his per carry production closely mirrored that of Melvin Gordon. In a running back comparison by our very own Graham Barfield, Gurley rated third among all FBS backs with a 28.9% red zone success rate (RZSR), meaning over a fourth of his carries inside the opponents 20-yard line went for touchdowns. This kind of production in the SEC is a promising sign of things to come.
Gurley in St. Louis
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a team’s production in comparison to expectation-level production, the Rams' Rushing NEP adjusted for schedule was tied for 14th (-0.01) in the NFL last year. Due to injuries at quarterback and inconsistency at wide receiver, the Rams were 24th in Adjusted Passing NEP (-0.01). With the addition of Gurley, the Rams improve both their rushing and passing attacks. Newly acquired quarterback Nick Foles gets a breath of fresh air in the backfield next to him as he tries to lead the Rams back to respectability.
I see Gurley as a slightly leaner and faster version of Pittsburgh's Le’Veon Bell. Before Bell arrived to Pittsburgh in 2013, the Steelers’ Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush was -0.11, which was 30th in the NFL. Although he's only been in the league two seasons, the Steelers have improved each of those years with -0.08 NEP in 2013 (29th) and -0.04 in 2014 (tied for 21st). That doesn't sound impressive, but for an offense that focuses on the passing game and considering their improvement in the running game over that period, it's clear that Bell has brought a lot of value to the Pittsburgh offense. Gurley could easily have a greater impact in his first season. Expect the Rams to immediately improve on their 20.3 points per game in 2014 and for Gurley to contribute Week 1, as long as he's healthy enough to do so.