How ACL injury affects Todd Gurley's NFL status
Many times the difference between a first- and second-round pick isn’t talent, but rather the presence or absence of “red flags.”
Thanks to a torn ACL, Todd Gurley just planted a big one on his front lawn, and NFL personnel departments have taken notice.
“Depending on how the rehab process goes and if he’ll be able to get back to normal for pro day, he could still go first round. After the Marcus Lattimore deal, it’s really difficult to draft a running back with an ACL injury in the early rounds,” a scout for an NFC team told Saturday Down South, referencing the former South Carolina player who retired before playing an NFL snap due to lingering issues from a college knee injury.
One former NFL general manager who still works in the league said it’s too early in the evaluation process to start slotting players on draft boards. When pressed for an early guess, though, he said Gurley’s chances to get drafted in the first round went from “definitely” to “about 50/50.”
An AFC scout with a pick likely to fall in the middle of the first round anticipated recommending Gurley as a potential target when the team’s personnel department meets to discuss its options before the draft, he said in a text message. He now thinks there’s little chance the team will seriously consider the Bulldogs star that early.
“Coaches like running backs to come out of college with enough of a track record for them to fully evaluate his game skills, but without so many carries that their shelf life at the next level is compromised,” said David Seigerman, an NFL draft expert and co-author of “Take Your Eye Off The Ball.”
Gurley fit that criteria, and still does. He accounted for 3,900 yards of offense in three partial college seasons. He caught 55 passes and proved himself as an asset in pass protection. Two of his 11 kickoff returns went for touchdowns, and a penalty negated a third Saturday in what we all assume was his final college game. Gurley even completed his only pass attempt for 50 yards.
In other words, NFL evaluators don’t need to see anything more from Gurley, and may have even preferred if he didn’t take another college snap after his four-game NCAA suspension. (The forced hiatus will have little to no impact on his draft status.)
Most NFL draft analysts had him in the Top 10 of their big board prior to the injury. Granted, a first-round running back no longer is an every-year occurrence. But most anticipated Gurley wouldn’t last past the 32nd pick come April 30.
An ankle injury plagued him for most of the 2013 season, then forced him to miss most of spring practice. The 6-foot-1, 226-pound back entered the year with scouts and general managers at least curious about his durability, in part due to his upright running style. Now that curiosity is a full-fledged concern.
Before his suspension, he looked like the next back in the Adrian Peterson/Marshawn Lynch mold: a running back with elite power and speed, a feature back with home run potential, a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield and be used in every down-and-distance situation. Melvin Gordon isn’t that kind of back; he’s a non-factor in the passing game. Gurley still could be that back. Only now, heading into the pre-draft season, we have no idea. He will now be viewed as a prospect with a medical history. The ankle alone could’ve been written off. Now, his durability is a legitimate concern. Question marks exist where none had before, and he isn’t going to be able to address them on the field. Now, doctors’ opinions matter as much as scouts’.
Gurley’s honesty following the pay-for-signature allegations more or less neutralizes whatever character concerns materialized during his NCAA-mandated suspension. The rule is antiquated and in many eyes silly, especially to the men dealing with a cut-throat, billion-dollar football business on a daily basis.
The injuries, though, will require hours of discussion and input. NFL teams will reach out to Georgia’s training staff and team doctors for information, then spend hours poking and prodding him like a lab rat in Indianapolis.
His college carry totals by season — 222, 165, 123 — don’t inspire much confidence. In 2013, 15 NFL backs carried at least 223 times, more than Gurley’s career high. Is his body prone to injury, or can he hold up?
DRAFT PROJECTION: LATE FIRST ROUND
In a weird twist, Gurley may not mind if he slides out of the first round. His insurance policy will pay out for “loss of value” if Gurley goes at No. 33 overall or worse.
Details of Gurley’s injury are scant. As of Monday evening, no surgery date had been set. We’re about five months away from Georgia’s pro day, so it’s possible he’ll at least be able to run for scouts.
Teams will have to ask themselves: is it worth risking a first-round pick on a back who could still be recovering from major knee surgery during OTAs? That it’s even a question is a testament to Gurley’s ability.
The general manager of at least one playoff team is going to fall in love with the idea of stealing a Top 5 talent late in the first round. And can you imagine Gurley’s potential value in the second round? But I doubt he’ll last that long.
“Should everything go well with his surgery, and NFL teams are pleased with the progress of his rehab six months from now, Gurley will still be the first running back taken in the draft,” Seigerman said. “But his risk-reward ratio has been skewed, and teams picking early in the first round might feel compelled to pass on him.
“Ironically, this could wind up benefitting Gurley. If he drops into the second half of the first round, he’s going to wind up going to a playoff team.
“One intriguing scenario: it’s pretty easy to imagine Seattle, which is likely to part ways with Lynch after this season, moving up in the first round to get Gurley, who — when healthy — could step right into Lynch’s role in that offense.”