Are Todd Gurley’s Best Days Already Behind Him?

Todd Gurley is a fascinating case. Once viewed as one of the NFL’s top running backs, he received a big contract extension from the Los Angeles Rams before his production seemingly plummeted. What happened to Gurley? Are his best days behind him?

Todd Gurley’s NFL career

The Rams selected the University of Georgia alum with the 10th overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft. Over the course of his career, Gurley’s numbers have been quite impressive. Here’s what he’s accomplished so far:

  • 65 games played
  • 4,902 rushing yards on 1,134 attempts
  • 4.3 yards per attempt
  • 52 rushing touchdowns 
  • 11 receiving touchdowns 
  • 2015 NFL Rookie of the Year
  • Three-time Pro Bowl selection
  • Two-time All-Pro selection 
  • 2017 AP Offensive Player of the Year 

In both 2017 and 2018, Gurley led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. For a few seasons, he was also a can’t-miss option at running back for fantasy football aficionados. On its face, Gurley’s NFL resume seems to hold up well. But a closer look reveals a career trending downward in very confusing ways. 

Gurley’s 2019 season so far

This season, the 25-year-old’s production has dropped significantly at an alarming rate. Here’s what Gurley has managed to produce numbers-wise in 2019:

  • Seven games
  • 355 rushing yards on 92 attempts
  • 3.9 yards per attempt 
  • Six rushing touchdowns 
  • One receiving touchdown

Gurley’s production began to fall late last season. In Week 15, he suffered a knee injury. While the Rams were on a run to the NFC championship and a Super Bowl appearance, Gurley was nowhere to be found. He had only 14 carries in the NFC title game and Super Bowl combined.

Here’s what Yahoo Sports had to say (via NFL Next Gen Stats) about his lack of touches versus the Saints in the playoffs last season:

Gurley was in for 32 plays, the fewest he has played in two seasons with Rams coach Sean McVay. Anderson had 35 plays. Anderson had 17 touches and Gurley had five. Gurley had 10 yards on just four carries, including a touchdown. Anderson averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

Head coach Sean McVay stated it was due to the “flow of the game,” but Gurley’s persistent troubles this year indicate a larger issue. So what exactly is happening to the running back? 

Are Gurley’s best days behind him? 

Unfortunately, yes, his best days may be over. There are a few possible explanations for Gurley’s precipitous dropoff; one is arthritis in his knee. According to his trainer, it’s been an issue since Gurley’s college days.

Everybody knew when Todd came out of Georgia that there would be some kind of arthritic component to his knee, which is part of every surgery whether it’s a shoulder, a knee, an ankle. He’s now at the year-five mark, all we’re doing is managing that.

Gurley could also just not be a great stylistic fit for head coach Sean McVay’s offense. McVay seemed to favor C.J. Anderson, a bigger, north-south runner, last season down the stretch.

A third explanation is that Gurley may have simply hit a wall. Take a look at his carry totals for the first four years of his career: 229, 278, 279, and 256. That’s a lot of carries.

There’s also a chance that Gurley, though still young by normal NFL standards, has maxed out his usage as a running back. Most running backs start to decline by the age of 27. Gurley’s not that old yet, but it’s possible he just started early.