NFL Draft Outlook: Where does Todd Gurley stand after roller coaster year?

Story posted March 16, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Ryan Berti

Oh how one year can totally change things. Just ask Todd Gurley.

Entering the 2014 season, the Georgia star running back looked like a sure thing. As a junior, he had the makes of an absolute nightmare for defenses. The 6-foot, 220-pound power back made a name for himself by either running over his opponents or with his signature one-step cut-back and accelerating in between defenders. Also gifted with a great pair of hands and uncanny balance, Gurley has everything NFL scouts look for in a running back you could build a team around.

Analysts have thrown around comparisons to Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, and besides the obvious pick of the reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston, Gurley was the next man expected to bear the glory and prestige that comes with the trophy.
His only negative was a nagging ankle that left him out of three games his sophomore season, and he was a shoe-in for a top-5 pick the coming year at the NFL draft.

...But oh how one year totally changed everything.

He was off like a bull out of the gate, finding the end zone three times in his first game while adding 198 yards of offense on the ground. His stardom continued to grow, tallying 773 yards on 94 carries and nine total touchdowns in the season’s first five contests, averaging 150 rushing yards per game.

And then the NCAA crashed the party.

On October 9, the NCAA announced that Todd Gurley had been suspended indefinitely from competition awaiting further investigation on whether or not he had accepted money for autographs and memorabilia. The superstar’s journey had come to a halt as he had become subject to the NCAA’s iron-fist and sat in a state of limbo as he awaited a ruling.

Gurley had not learned from those who had made the same mistake before him, such as former Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green and former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, both of whom were suspended by the NCAA for committing similar actions (Manziel was never found guilty but still sat out one-half of a game).

Gurley proceeded to sit out the following two weeks before he was handed a four-game suspension from the NCAA, who found he had accepted over $3000 for his likeness and autographs on memorabilia.

The Bulldogs surprisingly didn’t miss a beat without the then-Heisman frontrunner. His replacement, true freshman Nick Chubb, continued the Georgia ground attack as he carried the rock 102 times for 671 yards, averaging 167.75 rushing yards per game along with solid contributions in the passing game and six total touchdowns.

Gurley returned to the field against Auburn; six weeks since he last played in a game. There were no concerns about his readiness it seemed, and he showed it on the football field as he garnered 138 yards rushing on a season-high 29 carries.

…But oh how one play can change things

With five minutes left and a 20-point Georgia lead, No. 3 made a cut past the line of scrimmage and into the second level before collapsing to the turf in pain.

Gurley had torn his ACL, effectively ending his Bulldog career. Just before Georgia’s bowl game, it was announced that Gurley would forego his senior eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

Despite the injury, Gurley attended the NFL combine to participate in the bench press where he recorded a mediocre 17 reps, but his presence was what impressed NFL executives. He refused the medical check, which is a cause for concern, but it was prescribed by his doctor to avoid having all 32 teams poking around at that knee.

From Heisman front man to the sidelines to the surgery table, calling his junior season anything less than a roller coaster ride would be an understatement.

The running back, who entered the season a “can’t miss,” now sits in a field of uncertainty. It doesn’t help that the NFL has become a passing league over the past decade and running backs have seen in a decrease in their value with one not being selected in the first round the past two drafts.

Despite scandal and injury, you can’t deny the incredible talent held by Gurley. And he wouldn’t be the first to have experienced these types of draft stock killers, he just might be the first to have dealt with both. So how does it all affect where he falls in the draft?

For starters, here are just a few players who ended up first round picks in their respective drafts who dealt with some sort of scandal during their NCAA careers: Cam Newton - #1 overall pick (play for pay), A.J. Green - #4 overall (memorabilia), Randy Moss - #21 overall (drugs, other concerns), Johnny Manziel - #22 overall (memorabilia), Dez Bryant - #24 overall (lying to NCAA).

The more concerning thing to NFL drafters is definitely the injury, for ACL tears are as ominous as it gets for a running back. The most similar cases to Gurley’s would be Willis McGahee and more recently, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore. Both had great college careers, and both had some of the most gruesome knee injuries ever seen on a football field (far worse than Gurley’s) which ended their college careers.

Lattimore’s tale is one of sorrow, where despite continuous knee injuries, he still made it on to the 49ers, but never got further than the scout team, retiring this past season at the ripe age of 23.

McGahee’s tale however is one of triumph. Just like Gurley, McGahee was considered a top-5 pick prior to his injury, but dropped to the 23rd pick where he was selected by the Buffalo Bills. He rebounded to have an extremely successful 10-year career with two Pro Bowl selections and four 1000-yard seasons.

So don’t expect his scandal to affect his draft stock much, if at all, for he has been very honest throughout the entire process and owned up to his mistakes. Instead, look for teams to be hesitant to pull the trigger because of his injury history.

Many initial Mock Drafts had Gurley falling to 31st to the Seahawks, but after resigning Marshawn Lynch, it’s highly unlikely to runner-ups would draft a running back in round 1. Will someone take a chance on the Georgia back? Or will a tailback fail to get drafted in the first round for the third straight year?

Gurley, however, still has his eyes set on the top spot, saying at the Combine: “I want to be the number one pick. I’m not here to be the number five pick or a second round pick.”

Unlike his knee, his confidence certainly seems unshaken, and that is something NFL teams should definitely value this April.

Photo Credit: (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Berti is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email ryanpberti@gmail.com.