The Atlanta Falcons brought in running back Todd Gurley on a one-year deal last week following Gurley’s jarring (but yet not too surprising) release from the Los Angeles Rams.
A couple of years ago, cutting Gurley would have been unthinkable.
In 2018, many considered Gurley to be the best halfback in the NFL, and he was just 24 years old at the time. However, in Week 15 of that season, Gurley suffered a knee injury that has lingered ever since, so much so that the Rams cut him before his four-year, $57 million contract extension even kicked in (the deal contained $45 million in guaranteed money).
So just what does Gurley have to do in 2020 in order to have a successful campaign?
Well, for starters, he needs to have at least one 100-yard outing.
This past year, Gurley did not log 100 rushing yards in a single game once, topping out at 97 yards. It exemplified just how far the University of Georgia product had fallen, as Gurley’s dominance from the year prior was essentially entirely gone.
But more importantly, he needs to make more out of his touches.
In 2019, Gurley logged a meager 3.8 yards per carry and just 6.7 yards per reception. By comparison, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per catch in 2018, and in 2017, he registered 4.8 yards per carry and 12.3 yards per grab.
While I’m not sure Gurley will ever rediscover his 2017-2018 form, he at least needs to be a bit better than he was this past season in order to seriously help the Falcons’ offense.
Is that something he is capable of doing at this stage? It remains to be seen, but because Gurley is still only 25 years old (he will be 26 at the start of the 2020 campaign), you would like to think that he has time to slightly recover.
Of course, Gurley may have a degenerative knee issue, so his age may not even matter, but let’s just assume he still has some oomph left in the tank.
Realistically, in order to get the most out of Gurley, Atlanta is going to have to put a cap on his touches. That means fellow running backs Ito Smith and Brian Hill (and potentially a draft pick) will be splitting carries with Gurley.
That makes it even more imperative for Gurley to capitalize on whatever touches he receives, whether that be on the ground or through the air.
Luckily for Gurley, he is playing with a better quarterback in Matt Ryan than he did in Los Angeles with Jared Goff, so perhaps Ryan can better utilize Gurley as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Clearly, the threat of play action with Gurley helped Goff thrive in 2017 and 2018, because in 2019, Goff’s production fell off a cliff.
Ryan may be on the downside of his career, but he is still better than Goff, so Gurley may find some more success with him this coming season.
Gurley just needs to stay as healthy as he can and maximize his efficiency. The days of him being one of the NFL’s most dominant rushers are over, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still produce.