When is it time to have the Todd Gurley conversation?— Charlie Hiller (@charliehiller) September 10, 2017
This was a tweet I made while I was at the season opener, when the Los Angeles Rams dumped the Indianapolis Colts, 46-9. In a game where everyone was in a groove, Todd Gurley had 40 yards on 19 carries. He found the end zone on a 5-yard scamper, but it had the feeling of the 2016 Todd Gurley, who had struggled significantly compared to his rookie season the year before. And if Gurley were to struggle even when the offense can move the ball, I was concerned that the generational talent that Jeff Fisher drafted 10th overall in 2015 was looking at an early decline.
I don’t know if you’ve watched the 13 games since the opener, but I’m happy to inform you that I was dead wrong.
The 10-4 Rams are the presumptive NFC West champions thanks to an offensive renaissance directed by rookie head coach Sean McVay and executed on the field by Gurley. While making the postseason for the first time since 2004 may be the bigger focus for the team, there is the small matter for additional hardware for those deserving. McVay is on the shortlist for Coach of the Year for orchestrating this remarkable turnaround. Aaron Donald is nearly a lock to win Defensive Player of the Year. And while Gurley is a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year as well as Offensive Player of the Year, there’s a case to be made that it can go one step higher: Most Valuable Player.
Gurley is 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,187, only 35 yards behind leader Le’Veon Bell, who has 50 more carries than Gurley. He has also become a vital figure in the passing game. Gurley has caught 54 balls for 630 yards, which is good for second among running backs behind Alvin Kamara. His 1,817 all-purpose yards puts him second behind Bell, who has 76 more total touches and 32 more total yards. Pro Football Focus grades him at 89.9 on the season, making him their #1 running back.
But where Gurley truly stands out is his frequent trips to the end zone. He leads the NFL with 17 touchdowns. The next highest scorers are DeAndre Hopkins and Alvin Kamara with 12 apiece. Gurley is responsible for 102 points this season, placing him 14th in a metric that is dominated by kickers.
Going beyond just listing his numbers in bulk, his usage in wins compared to losses also shows his value to the team. In winning efforts, Gurley averages 24.2 touches for 144 total yards. In losses, he gets 17.3 touches for 94.3 yards. It’s worth noting that his effectiveness doesn’t necessarily decline in losses, but the drop in usage is noticeable and has been a point of criticism for McVay.
So, what’s the biggest holdup to crowning Gurley? Well, recent history. In the last decade, there have been nine quarterbacks and one running back that have won MVP. Adrian Peterson was the outlier in 2012. All he had to do was finish eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, which has rarely been challenged since he set it 33 years ago. The running backs that won MVP before Peterson were Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005 and 2006, respectively, for setting single-season touchdown records. And so while Gurley is having a stellar season, history suggests that running backs need to have a legendary season to win MVP in today’s NFL. However, injuries to a seemingly endless list of big names has opened up the field. Aaron Rodgers missed seven games. Carson Wentz went down with an ACL tear and will miss the final three games. Antonio Brown could miss the rest of the regular season with a torn calf muscle (and if running back MVPs are rare, wide receiver MVPs are unicorns - they don’t exist). The only competition I see is 2-time MVP Tom Brady, who has thrown for 4,163 yards, 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for the 11-3 New England Patriots. With history favoring Brady, I’d have to consider him to have the edge over Gurley as of right now, but a strong finish to the season with a clean 2,000+ total yards and 20+ touchdowns, the voters will have to strongly consider Todd Gurley for MVP.