If his rookie season was any indication, the now-Los Angeles Rams might be set at the running back position for the next decade with super-talented Todd Gurley. He's given a total of 1,235.5 rushing yards for the 2016 season on NFL odds.
Rams Were Proven Right
A lot of people questioned why the Rams took Gurley out of the University of Georgia with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft. For one, Gurley had suffered a serious knee injury (torn left ACL) in his final season with the Bulldogs and wasn't a lock to be ready for Week 1 of the season after surgery. Second, the Rams already had what looked to be a promising young running back on the roster in Tre Mason, who rushed for 765 yards and four touchdowns on 179 carries as a rookie in 2014. Third, the Rams had plenty of other holes to fill on the roster.
And lastly, NFL teams weren't supposed to take running backs that early in the draft any longer. The position has been devalued in the pro ranks as clubs pass more and more each year. More teams were also finding quality tailbacks in a later round. For example, the Cleveland Browns took running back Trent Richardson with the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 and he has been a huge bust.
That same year, the Dolphins took Miami (Fla.) running back Lamar Miller with the 97th overall pick and he has become a very good all-around player, signing a big free-agent deal this offseason with Houston. There was no running back taken in the first round in 2013 or '14. But there were some great finds. The Steelers got Le'Veon Bell at No. 48 overall in 2013 and the Packers snagged Eddie Lacy at No. 61. In 2014, Cincinnati got Jeremy Hill at No. 55 and the Falcons Devonta Freeman at No. 103.
The 2013-14 drafts were the first time in league history zero running backs were drafted in the first round in back-to-back years. But Gurley ended that drought last year. And it looks brilliant for the Rams.
Gurley wasn't ready for Week 1. He got a few looks in Week 3 as a reserve against Pittsburgh and was nothing special with 9 yards on six carries. Then Gurley announced his presence. There were 146 yards on 19 carries at Arizona; 159 yards on 30 carries the next week in Green Bay; 128 yards and two scores on 19 carries the next week vs. Cleveland; and 133 yards and a score on 20 carries on Nov. 1 against San Francisco. That gave Gurley 566 yards rushing in the first four starts of his career, breaking the previous mark of Detroit's Billy Sims with 539 in 1980. Gurley was also him the first rookie in NFL history to rush for 125 or more yards in his first four starts.
Defenses then pretty much geared up to stop Gurley because they didn't fear at all Rams quarterbacks Nick Foles or Case Keenum beating them (good call on that). Gurley had just one more 100-yard game but was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, finishing with 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns on 229 carries and 188 yards receiving on 21 catches. Gurley's yards-per-rush average of 4.83 ranked second in the league among backs with at least 150 carries. He had the second-most runs of 20-plus yards (11) and led all players with five 40-yard rushes. I would make the argument that Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston deserved the award a bit more, but he finished second. Gurley is +4000 on NFL odds to win this year's MVP Award.
So what to expect from Gurley this season? Of course, the Rams moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles but that shouldn't really matter. My concern is that the quarterback situation is still shaky. The Rams gave up a fortune to the Titans to trade up for the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft and take Cal QB Jared Goff. I'd imagine he's the Week 1 starter. But Goff isn't considered ready for the NFL yet -- he's not the prospect that Winston was, for example. The Rams aren't all that strong at receiver or the offensive line, either. Thus defenses are again going to put 8-9 guys in the box to stop Gurley first and foremost.
Gurley also will be facing some of the best defenses in the NFL this year: Seattle twice, Arizona twice, Carolina, the New York Jets and New England. The Rams are given a wins total of 7.5 on NFL picks, with the under a -135 favorite at sportsbooks.
Free NFL Pick: I'm a big fan of Gurley's, but I don't like the offensive talent around him right now. Go 'under' that total.
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