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

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

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