Todd Gurley vs. TJ Yeldon: Which young RB is superior?

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Smaller jitterbug-type running backs are quite the anomaly these days in the SEC, where 240-pound linebackers run as fast from sideline to sideline as scat backs – so running backs better be able to run through the line with some beef and authority. And life in the SEC presents such a physical beating that head coaches around the country are even negatively recruiting against it. Imagine that.

Two of the biggest and freshest running backs in the country are soon-to-be sophomores in TJ Yeldon and Todd Gurley, who made instant splashes at Alabama and Georgia. It makes for such a debate that a head-to-head examination becomes quite fascinating when comparing these two. Each are similar in size, about 6-1, 220-230 pounds, and ready to eat your brown-bagged lunch, son.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Yeldon or Gurley winds up hoisting the Stiff Arm trophy in New York this December.

But which running back is superior? Let’s check it out:

Athleticism & Versatility

TJ Yeldon’s smooth running style really overshadows his overall athleticism, but he’s so impressive, especially laterally and in the open field, for such a big cat. Yeldon gets to top speed very quickly and uses his x-ray vision to eat defenses alive at the second level. Yeldon has exceptional body control and can elude would-be tacklers in the open field given the thinnest crease through the line of scrimmage.

Todd Gurley is not only a superior running back, but also he could be the everyday kickoff returner, punt returner and, I venture to say, he could even excel at safety or linebacker. In fact, before last fall camp and before Isaiah Crowell was dismissed, Gurley was speculated to start his Georgia career at safety. That didn’t last long, once he started bouncing off and running through would-be tacklers in fall camp. Gurley even housed a 100-yard kickoff return against Buffalo in week one before being named the everyday starter. How’s that for being an athletic and versatile running back?

Advantage: Gurley

Instincts

Todd Gurley looks like an every-down SEC jumbo athlete excelling at running back, while TJ Yeldon looks so smooth when he glides up and down the field totin’ the rock.

It seemed like the more physical the defenses were, Gurley just kept bowing up. He has strong vision, and he made several linebackers look foolish trying to tackle him. Georgia’s line wasn’t dominant last season, and Gurley often found himself having to make a move or break a tackle earlier than Yeldon.

But to me, Yeldon looks much more natural at running back and just looks like he was born to play the position. He plays with a reckless abandon that other running backs envy and coaches eat up. It’s not that Gurley doesn’t launch his body into or run over tacklers like Yeldon, but Yeldon just looks more of a natural doing it. Yeldon glides in the open field, often making smooth cuts in and out of traffic. Yeldon exited the womb looking to make a move in the open field.

Advantage: Yeldon

Speed & Explosiveness

There’s track speed, and then there’s football speed. Yeldon and Gurley have both and pack a tremendous amount of speed and explosiveness into their superior athletic bodies. Gurley, however, has the most straight-line speed of the two, along with the most explosion in his first steps. Yeldon is very shifty in the open field and may possess more lateral quickness, but Gurley is the more explosive of the two.

Watch how Gurley starts this kick return relying more on his vision, and then he sees the crease and turns on the jets to explode through the hole. See ya!

Advantage: Gurley

Receiving threat

Based on such a small sample size, it’s hard to tell which running back is the better receiving threat. This is one aspect of the game that – for me – made Marcus Lattimore stand above the rest. He was so nasty in the receiving game; he was like a wide receiver out of the backfield and became another target for the quarterback and threat for the defense. That’s what Gurley and Yeldon have to strive to become to round out their overall games.

Gurley caught 16 passes for 117 yards and no touchdowns last season, while Yeldon caught 11 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. Alabama’s offense is built more around the running back being a primary cog in the passing game. And once Yeldon caught screen passes, he was more elusive than Gurley in the open field.

Does this touchdown pass reception spring anyone’s memory? Watch him make a move on #6 Craig Loston.

Advantage: Yeldon

Conclusion

What coach wouldn’t want to build their football team around either TJ Yeldon or Todd Gurley for three years? Both players are absolutely worthy to be called the best two running backs in the country. If you’re making me choose which player to build my team around, it would be Todd Gurley. Simply knowing Gurley carried the ball 222 times and averaged 6.2 yards per carry as an 18-year-old in a man’s league is quite astonishing. And to do it behind one of the biggest question marks of an offensive line entering 2012 was even more remarkable. Gurley has proven he can carry a ground game. Yeldon hasn’t yet, but I don’t foresee that being an issue. It’s just that Gurley already has.

As designated workhorses in pro-style offenses, you truly couldn’t go wrong with either stud. But I’m taking Todd Gurley.

Photo Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I’d take Todd Gurley over TJ Yeldon all day, everyday.

    • Not that I had any doubt…but this comment from a Gator fan (whos team had the best D in the nation i might add) pretty much closes this case for me.

  • This is like picking between pizza & hot wings. Both are great.

  • Gurley
    SEASON ATT YDS AVG LNG TD REC YDS AVG LNG TD
    2012 222 1385 6.2 55 17 16 117 7.3 23 0
    Yeldon
    SEASON ATT YDS AVG LNG TD REC YDS AVG LNG TD
    2012 175 1108 6.3 43 12 11 131 11.9 28 1

    I don’t see how this is even a call. Yeldon was one of TWO backs at Alabama with over 1000 yards, almost as much as Gurley on less carries, not to mention sharing the duty at RB. He averaged 3 more yards per catch on less receptions. Much more dynamic and elusive than Gurley, ask LSU about how fast he is. I suppose we’ll just have to see this year.

    • Sorry, but I think your main point, that Yeldon was one of TWO backs at Alabama with over 1000 yards, actually works against you. It shows that perhaps the Alabama O-line was more of the reason why he excelled than his own ability. Georgia’s O-line was good, but not great. Alabama’s O-line could arguably be one of the best in college football history.

      Now I think Yeldon is an amazing back; I just think the evidence you used to prove your point was completely flawed.

    • Gurley had over 200 more yards than Yeldon. And who was the toughest defense y’all played all year? Probably LSU right? In my oppinion, the Alabama defense was the best in the nation. And you obviously watched the SEC Championship which means you saw Gurley drag Alabama defenders into the endzone on multiple occasions. Gurley runs with the same amount of speed and even more power than Yeldon. He’s the better back. You don’t need to be dynamic and elusive when you can plow through anyone in the country.

      • I think you’re kinda shooting yourself in your foot. “Gurley had 200 more yards than Yeldon.”

        Well yea, a backup does tend to get less yards than a starter.

        • Yeah well Gurley had more yards than your starter too. And y’all played an extra game

    • Look at the last run. Yeldon cannot do THAT.

    • They both averaged close to the same yards per carry so Yeldon having “almost” as many yards in less carries doesn’t mean anything. Gurley also had a lot more touchdowns.

    • Emerald tide: You don’t see how this is even a call??? You’re right..it isn’t because Yeldon (while talented) came in and mopped up on Lacy’s scraps after he and that massive OL beat the opposing defenses to a pulp. TG3 carried the load for the most part and pounded out a lot of tough yardage for crucial 1st downs and Touchdowns that don’t show up in his YPC stats. And as the author stated was usually having to break tackles at the line of scrimmage to get there. He was the the stud in the stable while Yeldon was a change if pace. No comparison indeed.

  • I really don’t see where you’re going with the “Athleticism & Versatility” section here. It seems to imply that returning kickoffs somehow makes you a better running back. Sure, they’re similar, but Yeldon isn’t a kickoff returner so it’s plainly obvious which would be better in that respect.

    Yeldon flatly outperformed Gurley everywhere but total yards, but again that’s going to happen when you’re splitting reps with Eddie Lacy.

    • How can you claim that you flatly outperformed someone when you don’t have as many yards or TD’s and your average is .1 higher. You need to redefine your definition or flatly outperforming. The fact that Gurley didn’t get many passes thrown to him is a spin off of your Eddie Lacy theory– he was sharing the position with a very receiver esque back. What other categories are there for Yeldon to have flatly outperformed in

  • I’m sure we BAMA fans are happy to stick with Yeldon as you DAWGS are happy with Gurley. This was really a nonsense article designed to take up space.

  • I’ll take “Who gives a crap?” for $200 Alex and continue enjoying another national title.

    • How many titles does that make Alabama? Y’all Gumps added any since the offseason?

      • Take your pick Citrus Bowl Queen. You can take half our “real ones” and it still doubles anything the urrng can bring to the table. Bless your heart it must suck to have all that karma giving you a big fat fist enema for all these years. LOL! Loving evah minute of it. ROLL TIDE ROLL!!!!

  • This is the exact same as the AJ vs Murray column, you’ll never really get the full potential from TJ/AJ because they had the better team overall than Murray/TG3. AJ/TJ never had to play against Alabama’s defense and with threats like Cooper, Lacy, Kenny Bell, all the TEs and the best o-line in history it’s impossible to know what they could of done in the same situations as TG3 and Murray. Georgia has had a great teams in the last few years don’t get me wrong, put the players that Saban and staff put on the field are just more prepared or work together better than what the Dawgs have been able to show. I’m hopeful for both teams this year and would love to see another Bama/UGA matchup in ATL

  • You take Gurly I’ll take Yeldon any day. Remember, Yeldon did what he did as a back-up to Lacy. Gurly, in the long run, can’t shine Yeldon’s shoes. and, this year, GA won’t be able to shine BAMA”S shoes. We haven’t even started to talk about Derrick Henry.
    C’mon Pups, er, I mean dawgs.

  • Who is better, a back that can make yards after contact or a back that can make defenders miss altogether? Depends on the o-line, depends on the field position also. We will never know the answer to that question because these two backs will never play on the same team.

  • Who is better, a back that can make yards after contact or a back that can make defenders miss altogether? Depends on the o-line, depends on the field position also. We will never know theYeldon-Gurley answer because these two backs will never play on the same team.