There's no question about it: Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley exceeded expectations beyond belief in his rookie season.
To rush for over 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns and win rookie of the year is impressive no matter what. It's even more impressive when it's done in essentially 12 games. Gurley played in 13 games, but his first game he only saw about 9 snaps and barely touched the ball. That game did more damage than good as it hurt his per game averages, and he only gained 7 yards.
More impressive than anything else, the kid was only nine months removed from ACL surgery. We are only a few years past the time of complete disbelief in witnessing Adrian Peterson return from an ACL injury in eight months and rush for over 2,000 yards. Last year's performance from Gurley took on a whole new meaning.
Now, he didn't rush for over 2,000 yards. In fact, he didn't even lead the league in rushing. But he did finish third with an insanely high yards per carry average, 4.8, as a rookie learning the ropes facing some of the most stacked boxes in the NFL. He didn't even get to experience the offseason with OTAs and training camp like other rookies. Basically, he was thrown in the fire, and he came back our a freaking phoenix...coincidentally, while in Phoenix.
So these high expectations make sense. However, Gurley will be tested very early on. And it will happen in multiple ways. The first being coaches have had all offseason to study him and the way the Rams use he and WR Tavon Austin off of one another. The breakdowns will be thorough, and game plans will be developed specifically to stop Gurley. This tandem gained quite a bit of national attention last season, and they won't catch anyone off guard again.
They're going to have to elevate their game.
Another battle will be to adjust to a slightly different system. It's believed the Rams will play more shotgun this season once rookie QB Jared Goff takes over as the starting QB. This could mean more running from the gun as well. Gurley is a special talent but he's also a lot like Peterson. Both are rare breed running backs, but both are true downhill runners who do their best damage running from behind the quarterback and hitting the hole. You don't want to develop a habit of getting them going sideways too often. The quicker you can get them to go north-south, the better.
There's also the issue of stacked boxes. Gurley actually struggled mightily to find any running room once teams committed to stacking the boxes, deciding they will live with anything given up the Rams' passing game. Just look no further than weeks 9-13. Until the Rams played the Lions, teams held the ground game in check, in most cases forcing the team to completely abandon it, as boxes were stacked embarrassingly heavily. In fact, over a seven-game stretch, Gurley only reached 100 yards once.
However, Gurley also has a lot working in his favor.
As a rookie who missed the offseason programs, he was far from healthy. Now fully rehabilitated, and reportedly in excellent shape with a full offseason of practice and workouts under his belt, Gurley could be headed for a monster season. Another plus working in his favor --and really not just his favor but the entire team's -- the Rams for the first time in years will return every single offensive linemen from last season, both starters and backups. There should be some sort of continuity being built and they could finally begin to gel. A more stable and experienced offensive line could do wonders for Gurley, both due to opening lanes, but also giving whoever is under center more time, creating a better passing game.
Gurley is no question going to have a good year -- barring an injury -- so that's not the question here. The question is simple: how good will it be? Would a 1,200-yard season and finishing third or fourth in rushing be a disappointment?
Here's my prediction:.
Todd Gurley's 2016 season stat prediction:
- 1,560 yards rushing
- 219 yards receiving
- 4.7 yards per carry
- 29 receptions
- 13 total touchdowns
- Two fumbles
- Pro Bowl
- First team All-Pro
- Second in league rushing
- Best game -- 206 yds, 2 tds
- Longest run 72 yds
- 9 runs over 25 yds, 3 over 50