At what point should Rams fans be concerned that for all his individual talents, the offense as a whole continues to struggle and it might be burying Gurley in the process?
I asked that question of Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley after two games last year. The common response? “Not yet.” I asked it again after Week 6. By then it was “Maybe now.” The third time I asked it, the Rams were 4-7, set to fire then Head Coach Jeff Fisher with Gurley averaging less than 55 yards per game.
The 2016 season was one of disappointment all around and perhaps no player epitomized the failed growth more than Gurley. We all know he’s talented. We know he’s capable. But it didn’t show in 2016.
So now as we move into 2017 and the birth of the Sean McVay era, Gurley (along with QB Jared Goff) are perhaps laden with the most pressure to show that the scapegoating of Jeff Fisher is warranted. If he’s unable to flash that talent on a more consistent basis, there’s not going to be any pointing at Fisher.
It’s with that in mind that a piece from Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett looks at Gurley’s production dip, from a fantasy perspective mostly, and wonders what the hell happened...and what’s to come:
Gurley has become one of the most-debated players this offseason. Either he’s a generational talent in a bad situation due for a monster bounceback year, or he’s the next Trent Richardson. There seems to be no in between...
...In 2015, among all running backs with at least 150 carries, Todd Gurley had the highest percentage of runs to go for 25 or more yards (8 of 229.) In 2016, he ranked dead-last by this same metric with zero runs of 25 or more yards on 278 attempts.
In 2015, 32.9 percent of his Gurley’s rushing yardage came from runs of 25 or more yards — the highest rate in the league. Gurley ranked eighth-best in yards per carry (4.83) that season, but if we take away all of his carries of 25 or more yards, he would have ranked last in the NFL (3.36.)
Even his accolade-earning 2015 season showed that when he wasn’t breaking off huge runs, his standard rush gain was horrible. The question is how much of that is on Gurley and how much is on the run blocking.
You can’t understate how important this is either. The difference between a 3-yard gain and a 5-yard one is overwhelmingly significant, ESPECIALLY for an offense as limited as ours.
Barrett puts Gurley’s season in historical perspective as it’s one of the worst ever but also notes Fisher’s frequency in a certain group:
In the entire history of the NFL, there are 320 instances of a running back accumulating at least 275 carries in a single season. Among these 320 seasons, Gurley’s 2016 season ranks fifth-worst in yards per carry.
So, that’s the bad news. The good news, if we can call it that, is that four of the 12 worst seasons came from a running back coached by Jeff Fisher. This is likely not a coincidence. I’ve said some very unflattering things about Fisher in articles before, but my editor, keep-me-from-offending-people mage that he is, always takes them out. Just know that I am very much not a fan, and do think his departure means good things for Gurley.
Barrett looks at his fantasy outlook in 2017 and does offer some fair optimism which I’d share in general. I recommend reading the piece in its entirety at PFF.
There’s a new coaching staff in place, though it’s worth noting that Running Backs Coach Skip Peete was one of two coaches who joined McVay’s staff after serving in Fisher’s (the other being Special Teams Coordinator and former Interim Head Coach John Fassel) at the personal insistence of Gurley. And the shuffling on the offensive line (which I’d note isn’t necessarily finished...) likely can only offer better things in the run game in 2017.
The question is what Todd Gurley we’ll see this year. And I’m not sure...which in and of itself isn’t a good thing.