I am going to begin this article with something that may surprise many readers. The grade at the end of this article is not an A+, despite everything Todd Gurley has done for the Rams this season. You may disagree with me now, but remember that this is an article based on the entire running backs group.
Excellent. Dynamic. Unstoppable. All of those words can be used to describe the season that Gurley had out of the backfield for the Los Angeles Rams. After a Rookie of the Year campaign and a major sophomore slump, Gurley soared to new heights in Sean McVay’s offense. Now more than just a runner, the star back finished third on the team in receiving yards. Also, the dynamic former Georgia Bulldog had a nose for the endzone, scoring 19 touchdowns on the season. Yes, Gurley was so good this year that he brought himself, a running back, into the forefront of the MVP conversation. As of now, it seems as though it is a two-man race between Gurley and Tom Brady, and Gurley hates losing races.
As dynamic as Gurley was catching the ball and finding the endzone, he was truly at his best on the ground. His ability to make one cut and go is unmatched, dragging defenders forward for extra yards seemingly every play. His resurgence on the ground consistently set his team up in much more manageable situations on third down. Speaking of third down, Gurley was pretty much a three-down back for the Rams all season. With great vision behind a revamped offensive line, Gurley hit holes with confidence he could not find in 2016. That confidence carried over to his quarterback, as Gurley’s play on the ground gave way to much-improved play from Jared Goff.
The Rams “third-down back” this season was Malcolm Brown. However, Gurley rarely came off the field. A high volume of Brown’s snaps came in garbage time, looking to run out the clock on a big win. A knee injury took a few weeks away from Brown on the season. However, even after returning, Brown was unable to run with the same physicality as he did before his injury. Known for being a guy with a low center of gravity that could bowl over defenders, Brown did not have that same attacking style in his last few games.
Was Tavon Austin even a running back? Nobody is really sure, honestly. However, Austin did see his share of reps out of the backfield early in the season. Those carries were less than successful, and Austin was much more effective coming across the field on jet sweeps. Austin’s inability to run through tacklers hurt him when rushing out of the backfield, he is a much better runner when he is given the ball in space to make opponents miss.
Lance Dunbar was an interesting offseason acquisition that did not pan out for the Rams this year. A knee injury kept him away from the team for a good part of the season and the reps simply were not there upon his return. Expected to be a third-down pass blocked and screen player out of the backfield for the Rams, he notched just one catch for the entire season. I fully expect the Rams to let Dunbar walk in free agency this offseason.
The Rams running back group was mediocre outside of Todd Gurley, who is an MVP candidate. That makes them a tough group to grade, but they could not fall below and A- with a player like Gurley aboard. Now that the Rams will be looking ahead toward the offseason, I would not be surprised to see them bring in another back to compliment Gurley via free agency or the draft. Without a doubt, any solid back paired with Gurley is quite the two-headed monster.