Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley is headed toward a blank page.
JTG came out of the 2019 postseason on the back of limited playing time and misleading commentary from himself and Rams Head Coach Sean McVay to the point that nobody, inside Rams HQ or out, has a firm grasp on what Gurley’s 2019 season will look like.
A recent article from the Athletic’s Vinny Bonsignore and Rich Hammond looked to project Gurley’s 2019 season statistically. It’s a courageous effort given the unknowns.
Hammond voiced the unknowns well:
Arthritis is a scary word, and if that’s what Gurley is dealing with — it’s been reported as such, and the Rams haven’t pushed back — then clearly changes will be afoot in 2019. But how significant? If Gurley’s situation is mild, perhaps it can be managed through rest and medication, and he will retain the form that allowed him to be one of the league’s most dynamic offensive players in 2017 and 2018.
We just don’t know. This isn’t a torn ACL or a broken ankle, an injury with a fixed recovery timetable. Gurley could feel fine for weeks, or even months, then wake up one morning and feel stiff and sore. The Rams could do everything right, in terms of rest and usage, and still lose Gurley at some point.
Complicating matters is that the Rams, to put it mildly, have been opaque about this issue. That’s understandable, in the sense that they don’t want opponents to essentially get a glimpse at their sensitive medical matters, but when McVay repeatedly insisted before the Super Bowl that Gurley was 100 percent, that clearly was not a full representation of the issue. That might be a nice way of putting it.
So in considering where Gurley’s headed statistically, let’s first look at 2018.
Gurley’s season can be broken down into four periods.
- Weeks 1-13: The Rams enjoyed their full running back depth chart with Malcolm Brown backing Gurley up.
- Weeks 14-15: Brown injured his clavicle against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, and the Rams didn’t make a move to bring in a replacement meaning the RB depth chart was Gurley> John Kelly> Justin Davis. That didn’t leave a valve to spell Gurley that the staff was comfortable giving carries.
- Weeks 16-17: Gurley aggravated his knee in Week 15 and missed the final two regular season games. The Rams signed RB C.J. Anderson who leapfrogged Kelly and Davis to immediately take on roughly 66% of the rushing workload with Kelly taking the other third.
- The postseason: Gurley returned into a jobshare with Anderson. The three games were distinct in usage, but overall Anderson had three-fifths of the carries with Gurley the remaining 40%.
So in looking from 2018 to 2019, we’ve got two clear distinctions to consider.
One will be Gurley’s overall readiness. Despite what we’ve learned about his knee and his usage in the playoffs, I’m not sure that Gurley can’t be as “healthy” for Week 1 for the 2019 season as he was for Week 1 last year. That being said, there is the obvious potential for Gurley to be less available physically. If that’s the case, then clearly we’re going to see a major reduction in his usage at least early on in the season. There’s also the nature of reaggravating the knee which would incur a major reduction as well if not some time off like at the end of the regular season.
The second factor is the addition of RB Darrell Henderson through the 2019 NFL Draft. The Rams opted not to re-sign Anderson. Instead, they traded up to use the 70th overall pick to take Henderson. If the staff favored Anderson’s inclusion with Gurley throughout the playoffs, their willingness to move on from him and sacrifice draft capital for Hendo is a strong signal that they’ll favor their newest running back even moreso.
So those two factors will clearly affect the outputs once we get to the season. Before we get to any statistical projection though, let’s check the math on Gurley’s usage in those four periods from 2018:
- Period 1, Weeks 1-13: 700 snaps (85.05% of RB snaps, 58.33 snaps/gm), 223 carries (83.83% of RB carries, 18.58 carries/gm)
- Period 2, Weeks 14-15: 125 snaps (91.24%, 62.5), 23 (85.19%, 11.5)
- Period 3, Weeks 16-17: N/A
- Period 4, postseason: 120 (56.34%, 40), 30 (39.47%, 10)
There was a significant reduction in Gurley’s rushing outputs over the back end of the season without a major reduction in snaps prior to the playoffs. In his first eight regular season games in 2018, Gurley averaged 21.13 carries per game. The final six regular season games? Just 14.5. That obviously preceded his playoff output of 10 carries per game in the jobshare with Anderson.
Bonsignore has Gurley averaging 15 carries per game (that’s 240 total) finishing with 1,070 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Hammond goes with 200 carries (12.5 per game), 960 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
I’m inclined to go with something closer to Hammond’s projection less because of Gurley and more because of Henderson.
The Rams’ coaching staff clearly was attracted to Anderson’s outputs and the versatility he added to their ground game in the playoffs to the degree that it persuaded some media members to go as far as to dismiss Gurley’s injury as a factor whatsoever. Consider then what will happen when Henderson has a good game especially if it comes in a game where Gurley doesn’t put up huge numbers.
So I’m going to take the under and go with:
186 carries for 952 yards (a career-high 5.12 yards per rush) and 15 touchdowns
What’s your prediction for JTG in 2019?