Todd Gurley's college career perfect in NFL's eyes
Sometime between Feb. 17 and Feb. 23, Todd Gurley is going to rub his cold hands together, take a deep breath and enter Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for a round of interviews with NFL general managers, scouts and head coaches.
They won’t need to consult notebooks filled with potential questions for this one.
Why did you sign autographs for money? Are you a selfish teammate? What other rules have you broken? How can we trust you?
Gurley, well-coached by an agent, will look them in the eye, admit to making mistakes and convince them he’s a team player and that he won’t cause any trouble if they trust him with their millions.
Then all the personnel people will sit back in their seats, satisfied, look at his career numbers at Georgia and salivate.
The four-game suspension did little to deter NFL scouts from Gurley, given the antiquated NCAA rulebook and the back’s apparent honesty.
Richt on Todd Gurley and his suspension: "I'm proud of the guy for being honest. I still think it's the best policy."
— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) November 11, 2014
Even better, last year’s injury and this year’s suspension combined to spare Gurley’s body from seven games of SEC hits. That’s nearly a full conference season.
Gurley has averaged 16.6 carries per game in his college career. With a pending maximum of five more games, assuming 17 carries per game, Gurley will finish the season with just 179 carries. That’s assuming the Bulldogs reach the SEC championship and Gurley gets significant playing time in every game, including against FCS foe Charleston Southern.
Let’s compare that to some recent high draft picks from the SEC. LSU’s Jeremy Hill (203), Auburn’s Tre Mason (317), Alabama’s Eddie Lacy (204), Alabama’s Trent Richardson (283) and LSU’s Stevan Ridley (249) all carried the ball more in their final college season, in some cases by a significant margin.
The SEC has a reputation for sending damaged goods the the NFL at running back. Mark Ingram and Marcus Lattimore didn’t even make the Combine before undergoing knee surgery. Lattimore’s injury eventually forced the end of his career, as he announced his intentions to retire from the NFL before ever taking a handoff.
The timing is at least a little ironic, as Lattimore suffered the devastating injury in the ninth game of his junior season and then made the announcement right as Gurley, a junior, prepares to return for Georgia’s 10th game.
Given that NFL running backs can expect careers to last about as long as Bret Bielema’s winless streak in SEC games, that’s a huge bonus.
Gurley has 64 catches out of the backfield at Georgia and possesses the sort of elusive all-around skills (pass protection, speed, power, vision, hands) that can get a running back drafted in the first round, no longer an every-year occurrence. Listed at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, Gurley is not a small man, but he dealt with a number of injuries in 2013.
He answered any questions about durability in a 35-32 win against Tennessee before the suspension. After carrying the ball a combined 41 times in Georgia’s first four games, including a puzzling absence in the fourth quarter of a loss to South Carolina, Gurley manned up for 238 total yards on 32 touches.
More importantly, with 11 minutes left in a one-possession game, coach Mark Richt and the Bulldogs gave him the ball on four of five snaps, including a 51-yard touchdown. Tennessee answered with a touchdown, and Georgia handed Gurley the ball again on the first play of the ensuing drive. Backed up inside its own 15-yard line and clinging to a field goal lead late in the game, the Bulldogs needed a play. So Gurley dodged two Vols defenders near the line of scrimmage and hurdled another for 26 yards, a well-worn video that many thought could be his “Heisman moment.”
You don’t think NFL scouts, who have compared him to a young Marshawn Lynch, liked seeing Gurley trusted to move the ball and kill the clock in the fourth quarter?
Now he’ll return to the field Saturday against Auburn. The timing of the suspension was nearly perfect. His final snapshot at Georgia won’t be of him wearing a “Free Gurley” shirt after breaking a rule that, no matter how silly, is well-publicized and easily avoided for someone poised to pull in what could be an eight-figure signing bonus.
Instead of entering the Combine rusty, Gurley gets one final SEC regular-season game at home against a reeling Auburn defense. Then it’s Charleston Southern, likely a light work day, and Georgia Tech before either an SEC championship or a bowl game.
Gurley can hurdle a few more defenders, score a few more touchdowns and scoot off to a likely first-round selection in the NFL draft. Though the suspension disappointed Georgia fans, the team went 3-1 without him and fell in love with Nick Chubb, the next Bulldogs star.
We’ll find out in about five months, but the four-game suspension probably helped Gurley’s NFL prospects.