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Enemy Evaluations: Todd Gurley and the Battle of Cannae

Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley has had a rollercoaster career arc. While in his junior season Georgia Bulldogs, Gurley tore his ACL after returning from suspension for accepting compensation for signed memorabilia. Still, the Rams felt confident enough that Gurley would be a bell cow back that they invested their 10th overall pick on him in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Gurley gave them an instant return on investment. He was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after running for 1,106 yards with 4.8 yards per carry while adding 10 touchdowns. His sophomore NFL season, however, left many questioning if his rookie success was more one-year wonder than the makings of a feature back.

In 2016, Gurley averaged 3.2 yards per carry and struggled to adjust to a new scheme that featured more runs from shotgun behind poor offensive line play. Add in a floundering rookie Quarterback in Jared Goff and a scheme that lacked any real identity and the “bust” crowd become more boisterous by the day.

I scouted Gurley’s 2016 film and I wrestled with his evaluation more than any other player I watched in the summer. There were clearly issues with Gurley’s mental processing, but how much of that was on him and how much of it was on scheme and the quality of blocking in front of him? There were issues where he failed to create when presented with trash or immediate penetration, but how much could you expect with the level of trash with which he was presented?

Bear with me for a moment… I’m a history nerd. One of my favorite subjects is Roman history and a favorite historical figure of mine is Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian military general that shocked the Roman world when he crossed the Alps and smashed the Romans in battle after battle. In one of those battles, Hannibal unleashed one of the first known pincer movements on the Romans, encircling them and dealing the Romans their most decisive military defeat to date.

The massacre I’m referring to is the Battle of Cannae. When I watched Gurley’s 2016 film, I couldn’t help but make a correlation in my mind. Here’s what it looked like in my head:

I went back to his 2015 tape to find more answers about his ability to find space and win in open-field situations because additional context was needed. The following report is based on that look back to his rookie campaign and six games of his sophomore film, but I’d be remised if I didn’t point out his success in 2017.

With new Head Coach Sean McVay orchestrating a beautiful offensive scheme, Gurley has experienced a generous uptick in production. Already at 939 yards on the ground entering this Week 14 tilt with the Eagles, Gurley is once again averaging over 4 yards per carry (4.2) and has hit pay dirt 8 times. He’s also improved in the passing game since the writing of this report, with career highs in receptions (48), receiving yards (563), and receiving touchdowns (3).

Aside from some ball security issues (5 fumbles), he has largely returned to his rookie form, improved his value in the passing game, and assumed his role as the bell cow the Rams envisioned when they drafted him early in the first round.

TODD GURLEY (LAR, RB, #30)

Best: Finishing, Balance, Lower Body Strength, Burst

Worst: Agility, Blocking, Concentration Drops

SCOUTING REPORT

2nd year RB that has started 28 of 29 games. Played 73.90% of the Rams’ offensive snaps, accounted for 74.1% of rush attempts, and 69.3% of the receptions by Running Backs. Played rookie campaign under HC Jeff Fisher and OC Frank Cignetti, operating under a primarily zone running scheme. In 2016 new OC Rob Boras implemented more man blocking schemes and increased the market share of running plays in Shotgun from 9.7% in 2015 to 26.8% in 2016.

STRENGTHS

Tall, muscular frame with a well-built lower body. Good athletic ability, possessing the burst and straight line speed to split safeties in space when given a runway and runs away from Linebackers on wheel routes.

Presses line of scrimmage patiently on outside zone (OZ); has the foot quickness and acceleration to hit the backside hole. Flashes ability to sink hips and burst out of breaks quickly on angle routes.

Solid mental processing; forced into quick decisions often due to leaky line play, regularly finds creases by reading leverage of first level defenders and reacting quickly to immediate penetration. More comfortable reading flow and making decisions by his third step on inside zone (IZ) and OZ. Excels with a fullback from which to base his reads, allowing him to stay squared to the line and burst to space. Adept at recognizing potential blitzers pre-snap and working inside to outside on post-snap pickups against all types of defenders.

Rarely stood up; keeps pad level low through tight creases and demonstrates above average play strength by churning legs for extra yards through contact. Switches ball carrying arm frequently to deliver strong stiff arms. Upper body strength to run through arm tackles and maintain speed through contact.

WEAKNESSES

Vision narrows on Sweeps, Outside Power and from Shotgun which causes indecisiveness and choppy footwork. Occasionally impatient when waiting for traps and pulls to develop, showing lack of anticipation. Often misreads force defender on Wildcat Veer. Struggles setting up blocks in space, runs up the back of his blocker.

Limited effectiveness with shoulders parallel to sideline and occasionally gets caught cornering by more athletic Linebackers. Adequate agility and hips; straight line runner that is forced to gear down and take choppy steps to cut on sharp angles, in open field doesn’t possess wiggle Defensive Backs miss in space, preferring to bowl them over with mixed results.

Suffers from concentration drops when turning eyes upfield prematurely. Poor effort pass blocking, gets pushed back or swept aside by blitzing Linebackers, takes poor angles on outside blitzes by defenders of all sizes, lacks understanding of his positioning relative to his Quarterback and lets defenders by with little resistance.

SUMMARY

Overall, an RB you can win with as a focal point of your running attack. Downhill runner capable of ripping off chunk plays with burst and play strength. May need to come out on 3rd downs due to pass blocking deficiencies unless being used as a receiver. Fits an offensive system that features zone concepts from Under Center with moderate Fullback usage.

The Philadelphia Eagles possess a typically stout run defense, but they will have their hands full slowing down the hard charging, thickly built bell cow that has ridden himself of the “bust” label with his performance this year.

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Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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