The Atlanta Falcons didn’t let the failed experience of Steven Jackson deter them from signing Todd Gurley, as they shouldn’t have.
After the Atlanta Falcons released Devonta Freeman, it became clear that the team would be addressing that position this offseason. With the team aiming to draft a running back between rounds two and three, the Los Angeles Rams releasing former superstar running back Todd Gurley shifted this discussion elsewhere.
The Rams flashed Todd Gurley in the trade Market and the Atlanta Falcons were one of the top team interested, alongside the Miami Dolphins. However, trading for Todd Gurley just wouldn’t have made sense.
After only being on the open market for less than a day, Todd Gurley signed a one year deal for reportedly $5 million. A one year deal for a 25-year-old running back who had over 2500 yards on the ground and 30 touchdowns in 2017 and 2018 combined says a lot. Obviously, the Gurley that the Atlanta Falcons are getting is not the same Gurley from before the 2018 Rams Super Bowl run or he would still be with the Rams.
It’s crazy that we are asking Gurley “What can you do?”. After having a phenomenal season in LA with the Rams in 2017 and 2018, Todd Gurley suffered a knee strain late into the 2018 regular season that carried over into the playoffs and lingered into the 2019 season as well. Unknown at the time, but Todd Gurley suffered the injury during Week 1 of that season, but only reaggravated it in the Week 15 loss to Philadelphia.
During the 2018 playoffs and 2019 offseason, Sean McVay repeatedly shot down reports that Todd Gurley was injured or rushed back onto the field. However, when you go from being the team leader and superstar on the ground to only getting 14 carries for 45 yards in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl combined, it became clear that the team was clearing covering up the extent of his health. However, even with his injures in the past, he still adds immense value.
The Atlanta Falcons haven’t had a rusher over 1,000 yards since Devonta Freeman in 2016. While Todd Gurley didn’t break the 1,000-yard mark last season, he did surpass Freeman in yards. On top of yards, Gurley had more broken tackles, yards per game, first downs, and most importantly, touchdowns. While Freeman did beat Gurley through the air in 2019, Todd Gurley nearly had 800 yards and 600 yards in the air in 2017 and 2018.
An easy argument to make against the signing of Gurley is why not just draft a rookie running back with no health issues, cheaper, and younger? While the Atlanta Falcons could’ve passed up on Gurley and drafted a running back in the second or third round and no one would’ve bashed them for it. A draft class with D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, and Cam Akers, makes it that much more crucial that Todd Gurley has a return to form, even if it’s not the same heights from before.
This doesn’t mean the Falcons shouldn’t forget about the running back spot altogether, drafting a running back in the later rounds. While we all hope Todd Gurley comes back to his pre-2019 form, in the reality that he doesn’t, the Falcons should have other options.
However, this does allow for the Falcons to address other areas on the defensive side without having to fully worry about the running back spot. By signing Gurley, they now could use Brian Hill as trade bait for more picks in the mid to later rounds of the draft. It’s also not too far off to think the Falcons could find their way back into the first round for a corner or another edge rusher by trading away their second and/or third-rounders.
The most notable running backs acquired by the Falcons are Warrick Dunn, Michael Turner, and Steven Jackson. Warrick Dunn had some of his better years when he joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2002. The same can be said with Michael Turner.
Turner spent the entirety of his time in San Diego behind the Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. After not starting but only one game in his entire four years in San Diego, Turner started off his Falcons career with the best season by a Falcons running back in Atlanta Falcons history in 2008 with nearly 1,700 yards rushing and 17 scores. Turner followed this season up with back to back 1300 yards and double-digit scores in 2010 and 2011.
The exception has been Steven Jackson. Jackson spent nine years in Saint Louis and outside of his rookie season, never went below 1,000 yards on the season. After joining Atlanta in 2013 with Michael Turner gone, Jackson saw his career drop bit a large margin. 2013 alone saw Jackson cut his 2012 season total in half and only managed just over 700 yards in 2014. Both seasons saw his worst yards per carry average.