At one time, Gurley was arguably the best running back in the NFL, carrying the Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl LIII in 2019. That postseason however, we did witness the first flare up of arthritis in Gurley’s knee, as the Rams put him on a snap count through the rest of the playoffs. During the 2019 season, Gurley also had his touches reduced as he recorded the lowest carries per game average in his young NFL career with 14.9.
For Falcons fans and those who participate in fantasy football, the question of how Gurley will be used in Atlanta has been a bit of a mystery. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter recently spoke with ESPN who inquired about Gurley’s usage.
“I think a minimum of 15 touches and a high of ,” Koetter said. “But you’ve got to realize we’ve got a lot of guys that need touches. You’re going to have 64 plays in a game on average on offense. Depending on where you’re at in the season and wear and tear, I think the low is 15 and maybe the high end 25. Some of that depends on score and where you’re at in the game. Are you ahead and running it? Are you getting in four-minute, and how are you running the ball that week? There’s a lot of factors in there. But again, the low end 15 and the high end 25.”
In May, Koetter raised some concerns by telling reporters “The main question, that no one seems to know, is what is his health status?” That has seemingly changed since then. Gurley has actively been participating in training camp, and his only flare up was reportedly a noticeable limp earlier this month, which begs the question of will his cut-back ability still be present?
“I think it’s definitely there,” Koetter said. “You can tell what a good pro Todd is. The way he works at it, he asks great questions. His experience in the outside zone game that he had with the Rams, he knows the tracks. He knows where the cutbacks are supposed to be based on the blocking scheme. We really haven’t seen Todd just because there’s no preseason games. We haven’t seen Todd totally cut it loose in a live situation. We’ve scrimmaged but we haven’t really done all-out, live. That’s coming up here pretty soon in the next week. But what we’ve seen from Todd so far is all positive. You can really see why he’s one of the best in the business.”
Gurley’s carries per game average this year will ultimately depend on in-game scenarios. Obviously if the team is up big, there’s no need to have Gurley out there and the team will likely lean on Ito Smith and Brian Hill. With that being said, it would be nice to see some stability at the running back position as the highest runs per game average in 2019 was Devonta Freeman’s 13.1 carries.
I believe Gurley’s most noticeable benefit will be when the Falcons are in the red zone. The days of Gurley busting a random 30+ yard run are likely over, as his longest run last season was 25 yards. He still scored 14 total touchdowns in 2019 with the Rams, and should’ve had more but was vultured by Malcolm Brown several times at the goal line.
Whether the 15-25 carries per game actually happens is up in the air. Not that it’s anyone's fault, ideally you’d love to have an All-Pro running back carry it that many times. But we don’t know the durability of Gurley’s left knee and if the arthritic condition will flare up during the season.