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Could the Los Angeles Rams take a running back in the first three rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft? Yup.

Todd Gurley is the highest-paid running back in the NFL. If he isn’t able to run enough to justify it, the Rams need a better backup plan.

Los Angeles Rams HC Sean McVay and RB Todd Gurley during Super Bowl LIII, Feb. 3, 2019.
Los Angeles Rams HC Sean McVay and RB Todd Gurley during Super Bowl LIII, Feb. 3, 2019.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL Draft is just around the corner. And with the Los Angeles Rams looking at roster gaps on the offensive line and at every level of defense, most mock drafts have us targeting prospects that seem awfully familiar by now.

But there is one factor that could completely change the Rams’ draft plans.

The status of RB Todd Gurley’s knee.

By this point, most fans are aware of where things stand in this saga. Both HC Sean McVay and Gurley himself misled the media during the playoffs. And at this point, we just don’t know what shape Gurley’s knee is in. McVay’s recent remarks as the offseason program began last week suggested Gurley would remain a “focal point” of the Rams’ offense. I’m not sure what that means, but we do know Gurley’s usage under McVay up until his knee was aggravated to the point of being left off the active gameday roster for the final two games of the 2018 regular season.

In his 29 starts over the last two seasons, Gurley averaged just less than 18.5 rushes per game. For backup RB Malcolm Brown, that number is more than 4.6 rushes per game, but that’s a bit misleading. Brown played in 23 games in the last two years of three types: non-blowouts, blowouts and games in which Gurley didn’t play. He backed up Gurley in 17 competitive non-blowout games and five blowouts in which he, understandably, got more playing time. There was just one game in which Gurley didn’t play that Brown did: the 2017 Week 17 game against the San Francisco 49ers in which McVay sat the starters. In the blowout games and that Week 17 asterisk game? Brown averaged 12.5 carries. But in those 17 standard games, Brown averaged just 1.82 rushes per game.

Suffice to say, McVay has never opted to have Brown carry the ball to a significant degree when Gurley was available in a competitive game the way he did with C.J. Anderson in the three playoff games. So there was a bit of a question as to whether Brown might benefit from McVay’s newfound penchant for a two-headed rushing attack.

But with the draft beginning in just more than 48 hours, I think there’s another question to be asked.

What if the running back who will benefit from McVay’s change in preference and/or Gurley’s injury isn’t on the roster?

What if the Rams are going to take a running back in the draft?

And what if he needs to be talented enough to spell Gurley for longer stretches than what Brown has been allowed to thus far?

I think those questions lead to the possibility that the Rams could take a running back in the draft earlier than many might have felt legitimate until recently. And yes, I’d include the current first selection from the Rams at #31 in that realm of possibility.

I’m not advocating for it. Nor am I predicting it. But I’m at least open to the chances that the Rams could spend one of their earliest picks on a running back to cut into Gurley’s 18.5 rushes per game.

Consider this answer from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah in a recent conference call when someone asked where he thought Penn St. Nittany Lions RB Miles Sanders might land:

In terms of how high he could go, I’d say it’s unlikely that he goes in the bottom of the first round. It wouldn’t totally shock me. A team like the Rams, that might surprise some people considering who they have in Todd Gurley, but they’ve done a lot of homework on running backs. Maybe that’s a scenario where they trade back if they looked at that position.

But I’d say there’s a slim chance he could go bottom one, but I do think he’s a lock to go in the second round, and I would anticipate he’s somebody that goes in the top 40 to 50 picks. I think you’ll see him go in the first part of the second round. He won’t have to wait too long.

The Rams opted to spell Gurley last year in the regular season not with another runner but with the passing game, whether by design or happenstance. Should they opt intentionally to rotate Gurley out without using Brown, we’ll have to see. At this point, the Rams have been reported to have brought in four running back for visits: Memphis Tigers RB Darrell Henderson, North Dakota State Bison RB Bruce Anderson, Florida Atlantic Owls RB Kerrith Whyte, Jr., and his teammate Devin Singletary.

With that being said, there are a couple of other targets that could make sense for the Rams.

Oklahoma Sooners RB Rodney Anderson

I’m not sure the answer for how to upgrade your insurance for your injured star is another injured star, but if you’re looking for value, Anderson might have the best among the entire running back class.

He’s got a broken leg, a fractured verterbra at the bottom of his neck and most recently a knee injury all certainly got checked thoroughly at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. Certainly, the injuries will prevent him from going too early. But his skill set is really, really good. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s gone on Day 2.

Texas A&M Aggies RB Trayveon Williams

If the Rams are looking for a running back that could offer production in the passing game, Williams would be an obvious target. Size might be a concern, but we’re not talking about an everydown back anyway.

Stanford Cardinal RB Bryce Love

Injury caveat here again with Love smarting from an ACL injury in December, but if you’re looking for a capable addition to plug into the running back depth chart for the purposes of taking carries away from Gurley, Love would be a solid candidate.

Temple Owls RB Ryquell Armstead

Armstead’s game reminds me a lot of former Rams RB Daryl Richardson though I think Armstead’s skill set is a bit stronger. Considerably so, perhaps. Even without much escapability, he’s a forceful, direct runner who doesn’t lose at the point of attack...well, almost ever. He might be more of a Brown upgrade than Gurley insurance, but perhaps that’s what the Rams are looking at.

Oklahoma State Cowboys RB Justice Hill

Hill’s pretty much the opposite of Armstead. Shifty with great start-and-stop quickness, Hill is a tinier lightning-in-a-bottle type that could be a strong complement to Gurley. Wouldn’t be an option on third downs or short yardage though.

The elephant in the room is Gurley’s knee. If the Rams sincerely feel Gurley can’t survive 18 carries per game over a full season and the playoffs and they aren’t comfortable with Brown taking on the difference, they’re going to have to bring in someone they are comfortable with. For whatever reason, that someone wasn’t C.J. Anderson.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn who that someone is before we get to Round 4 on Saturday.