Todd Gurley has a strong case for the Hall of Fame despite short career

Todd Gurley has a strong case for the Hall of Fame despite short career
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It’s fitting that Hollywood’s hometown Los Angeles Rams have bolstered their roster with stars year after year since relocating from St. Louis, Missouri in 2016.

Aaron Donald was the team’s defensive centerpiece and Todd Gurley was the focal point of the offense as the team made their move west. The team has since added bonafide stars such as Jalen Ramsey, Cooper Kupp, Von Miller, and Matthew Stafford—though some have already run their course.

While Todd Gurley is the only mentioned individual that did not win a Super Bowl with the Rams—and he was hobbled with injury during the 2018 championship game he played in—he still arguably has a strong case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Donald, Miller, and Ramsey are likely shoo-ins when their days come, and Kupp might also have a path if he turns in another top season.

The Hall of Fame should reward players for turning in elite individual seasons. The honor is not meant to be the “Hall of Longevity” or the “Hall of Good”, meaning that a long career with solid production could put you towards the top of the all-time yardage lists but should leave you outside the Hall of Fame.

Gurley was a top player at his position during his best individual seasons in 2017 and 2018, though he suffered a knee injury late in the regular season of the 2018 campaign and never returned to the same level of production despite being only 25 years old. While short, here’s how his career unfolded:

2015 – Rookie year with STL Rams:

Gurley’s NFL career started in the same way it ended: battling a knee injury that dated back to his college career.

The Rams drafted the running back 10 overall, which was a mild surprise considering his injury status. It took him until Week 3 to get on the field, when he had just six carries for nine yard (average of 1.50)—a less than stellar debut.

From that point forward Gurley was the Rams’ starter at running back, and he rewarded them with four straight games over 100 rushing yards. The first came in a win against the Arizona Cardinals where he rushed 19 times for 146 yards (7.68 average). He then put up 159 yards against the Packers, 128 yards versus the Browns, and 133 yards on the 49ers. The end result was 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 229 carries (4.83 average). Gurley also added 21 receptions for 188 yards despite Nick Foles and Case Keenum splitting duties under center.

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This effort was enough for Gurley to win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, AP Second Team All-Pro, and a Pro Bowl honor.

2016 – The forgotten season:

The Rams drafted Jared Goff with the first overall selection, and the Jeff Fisher offense came unraveled during the team’s first season in Los Angeles. Gurley played in all 16 games but rushed for just 885 yards and six touchdowns. His average per carry dipped down to 3.2 yards.

Gurley famously said the Rams “looked like a middle school offense”, which led to Fisher’s firing and Sean McVay being hired as his replacement.

2017 – The career year:

In his first year with Sean McVay and at just 23 years old, Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns along with 788 yards and another six touchdowns through the air. His 13 rushing and 19 total TD’s were league-leading figures—so were his 2,093 yards from scrimmage. Perhaps the biggest moment of the season came in Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans where Gurley broke away on a 80-yard catch and run from Goff to help lead the Rams to their first NFC West crown under McVay.

The running back finished as the AP Offensive Player of the Year, second in MVP voting to Tom Brady, AP First Team All-Pro, and his second Pro Bowl honor.

2018 – NFC Championship season:

In just 14 games during the 2018 season Gurley accumulated 1,251 rushing yards, 17 rushing TD’s, 580 receiving yards, and 4 receiving TD’s. His rushing and total touchdown (21) figures led the NFL and surpassed the stellar mark that he set in 2017 in one fewer game.

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The dynamic running back finished third in the AP Offensive Player of the Year voting behind Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees, but he was named AP First Team All-Pro and earned his third Pro Bowl honor.

Gurley seemed to suffer a knee injury in the historic 54-51 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Week 11, which slowed his production over the remaining stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. CJ Anderson overtook Gurley as the team’s lead running back.

2019 & 2020 – Past his prime at age 25, 26:

During his three best career years, Gurley averaged 4.8 yards per carry (15), 4.7 (17), and 4.9 (18). During 2019 and 2020 his averages plummeted to 3.8 and 3.5, respectively.

While Gurley certainly did not seem like himself during his last season in Los Angeles, the Rams’ offensive line also fell apart and derailed the offense. LA replaced John Sullivan with Brian Allen, who suffered a season-ending injury. Joe Noteboom and Rob Havenstein were also lost to injury for significant portions of the year.

The running back returned to Georgia to play for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020, though he fell out of favor and behind the depth chart to Brian Hill and Ito Smith by the end of the year.

Summation of Gurley’s Hall of Fame Candidacy:

Certainly Gurley’s argument for the Hall of Fame would be stronger if he’d maintained his high level of play for a longer period of time, but Gurley had a nose for the end zone like few of his time—and his 2017 and 2018 seasons ushered in a new era of football for the city of Los Angeles. Gurley is as responsible for the turnaround of the Rams franchise as any individual other than maybe Aaron Donald and Sean McVay.

While backs such as Fred Taylor, Eddie George, and Corey Dillon could be noted as options for the Hall of Fame in upcoming years, none of these players had individual seasons up to Gurley’s performances in 2017 and 2018.

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Gore’s career high of total touchdowns capped out at only 13, and while he accumulated 2,180 yards from scrimmage in 2006 he was below 1,500 for most of his career. Gore’s strongest case for the hall is longevity, as he was healthy enough to be a mainstay for 16 seasons—but he was never the best running back in football over multiple seasons. Being good for a long time is not the correct litmus test for the Hall of Fame.

The same goes for Taylor, George, and Dillon, whose best total touchdown figure and scrimmage yards fall below Gurley’s top outputs. Gurley is the only back on this list with multiple first team all-pro honors. Only he and George were named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, and only Gurley earned the AP Offensive Player of the Year award.

Gurley:

2015 – 1,294 from scrummage, 10 TD’s; AP Offensive Rookie of the Year; AP Second Team All-Pro

2017 – 2,093 from scrimmage, 19 TD’s; AP Offensive Player of the Year; AP First Team All-Pro

2018 – 1,831 from scrimmage, 21 TD’s; AP First Team All-Pro

Gore:

2006 – 2,180 from scrimmage, 9 TD’s; AP First Team All-Pro

2007 – 1,538 from scrimmage, 6 TD’s

2009 – 1,526 from scrimmage, 13 TD’s

Taylor:

1998 – 1,644 from scrimmage, 17 TD’s

2000 – 1,639 from scrimmage, 14 TD’s

2002 – 1,722 from scrimmage, 8 TD’s

2003 – 1,942 from scrimmage, 7 TD’s

2007 – 1,260 from scrimmage, 5 TD’s; AP Second Team All-Pro

George:

1996 – 1,550 from scrimmage, 8 TD’s; AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

1998 – 1,604 from scrimmage, 6 TD’s

1999 – 1,762 from scrimmage, 13 TD’s; AP Second Team All-Pro

2000 – 1,962 from scrimmage, 16 TD’s; AP First Team All-Pro

Dillon:

2000 – 1,593 from scrimmage, 7 TD’s

2001 – 1,543 from scrimmage, 13 TD’s

2001 – 1,609 from scrimmage, 7 TD’s

2004 – 1,738 from scrimmage, 13 TD’s

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images