Let's get the lede out of the way.
Russell Baxter, a featured columnist over at Bleacher Report, ranked his top 10 RB groups from across the NFL. The Rams, and reigning offense rookie of the year Todd Gurley, didn't make the cut. Not only that, the Rams didn't feature in the three "bubble" teams that didn't make his cut meaning the best the Rams could have featured was 14th.
For the sake of reference, here are his top 10 (rankings in 2015 rushing yards in parentheses):
- New York Jets (10th)
- Dallas Cowboys (9th)
- Buffalo Bills (1st)
- Carolina Panthers (2nd)
- Kansas City Chiefs (6th)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (16th)
- Minnesota Vikings (4th)
- Denver Broncos (17th)
- Green Bay Packers (12th)
- Arizona Cardinals (8th)
The only top 10 teams from 2015's team rushing totals not to make his list? The Seattle Seahawks, who lost Marshawn Lynch to retirement, and the Los Angeles Rams.
On one hand, perhaps you can chalk this up to the Rams being one of the least visible teams among national media in the last decade until this offseason's relocation to Los Angeles from St. Louis. Being overlooked or perhaps forgotten in pieces like this is something Rams fans should be used to. The idea that national writers haven't watched a ton of Rams football isn't just a notional idea. And it's hard to argue they should have spent their time otherwise.
On the other hand...this is a difficult ranking to justify. The Rams finished seventh in the NFL in total rushing yards and that was without the benefit of a QB padding those stats. And Just Todd Gurley...for all my misgivings about the selection of Gurley itself, I think he's a good running back with a ton of potential.
I think the problem here is twofold.
One, the Rams are the Rams. I'm clearly biased, but I'd think a group of Todd Gurley, Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham would place on this list were they on a different team. Consider the opposite true when looking at the Dallas Cowboys who placed second on Baxter's list with a rookie RB in Ezekiel Elliott with capable backups in Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. The difference between the Cowboys at 2nd and the Rams being unranked is only partially on talent; clearly the other component is the bias (and I'd argue it's closer to a fair bias than an unfair one) against the franchises themselves.
The other problem is projecting Gurley not just for 2016, but with the Rams as a whole.
There was a great piece late last week from the inimitable @FantasyDouche over at RotoViz late last week that portended a regression for Gurley this upcoming season. It's stat-heavy, but well-researched. And it only hints at perhaps the biggest bias from inside the Rams bubble that's begging to burst: overinflating Gurley's 2015 season.
Again, I don't have any real gripe in terms of Gurley as an individual talent, but look at the gaps in his production in 2015 (which I'd argue you can fairly assign part if not much of the responsibility for that on his surroundings).
Throwing out the Steelers game, Gurley had five games of 100+ yards and seven under that mark. Going off of yards per carry, in those five big games he averaged 5.3 yards per or higher; in the seven other games, it was 4.6 or lower. In fact, Gurley had three games in which he averaged less than three yards per carry.
Volume was an issue as well. Gurley had two games late in the season in which he only carried the ball nine times in each game for just 60 yards between the two; no surprise that the Rams lost those two games by a combined score of 10-58.
That's the real risk confronting the Rams' rushing attack and why you could mount a defense of Baxter's rankings.
It's uncomfortable, but it just might be accurate.