I expected to be more impressed by Todd Gurley. Instead, I came away absolutely amazed with Sean McVay’s offensive scheme, blown away by the Ram’s offensive line and slightly disappointed in Gurley’s talent. This is not to say that Gurley is a bad running back or that you should hop off the Gurley train for fantasy, but he just isn’t what I expected. I can absolutely see why he was so disappointing in Jeff Fisher’s final season.
Gurley has ideal size at 6’1” 230 pounds. He uses his size extremely well and has legitimate power to run through arm tackles and punish defenders. Gurley also has outstanding vision and is fast with great acceleration. These four traits combine with McVay’s Outside Zone running scheme to make Gurley an absolute monster in fantasy. I could write a thesis on McVay’s scheme (maybe I’ll make a post on this at some point), but I’ll sum up the basics before getting to the film:
The Ram’s line up in 11 personnel on 87% of offensive snaps. This means they have 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR’s. Their WR’s typically line up tight to the offensive line. This formation puts a ton of stress on the defensive backs because they need to guard against both inside and outside routes. The true brilliance in this scheme is that the offense looks the same pre-snap for both running and passing plays. The Ram’s have a deadly passing attack that needs to be respected at all times and the best way to disrupt it is by getting pressure on Goff. This leads to the outside zone rushing scheme that makes Gurley a monster. Outside zone means that the linemen block directly to the side instead of downfield. The running back takes the handoff, chooses a hole, and gets north-south after a couple steps. Since the defensive line needs to rush the QB, it is relatively easy for the offensive line to block them sideways. Check out these clips and watch how the offensive line moves directly sideways instead of downfield:
In all four of those plays (and believe me there are so many more than just these four), the OL moves directly sideways, in the same direction that Gurley receives the handoff, and essentially forms a wall. Gurley just needs to be patient, pick a hole, plant his foot and get downfield. It’s a brilliant scheme executed to perfection by a good OL and a talented running back. But not a transcendent running back which is truly what I expected to see on film. Watch these clips:
Did you catch it? That was CJ Anderson who was signed on December 5th after being cut by both the Panthers and Raiders. He also looks pretty impressive running behind that line with the Ram’s scheme. CJ Anderson has had multiple good seasons in the NFL and he’s a smart player with good vision. Anderson is nowhere close to Gurley talentwise, but he’s had a couple huge weeks on the Ram’s and that show’s how truly effective the Ram’s scheme is.
Back to Gurley. He’s got great power. Check out this run against the Eagles in week 15:
Gurley gets hit by Chris Long (a good defender) at the 4 yard line. He powers forward, bounces off #34 and into the end zone. His tape is littered with plays like this and his power is a huge asset in short yardage and when breaking arm tackles in the hole. Now another clip from his 200+ yard game against the Broncos:
Gurley breaks three tackles to turn a 5 yard run into a 15 yard run. That is special. He also has a deadly open field stiff arm that you can see in some of the clips above. He has the speed to get to the edge:
And he has decent (but not great) feet to make cuts. This one was impressive:
But they’re not the mind blowing jump cuts that Zeke and Barkley bring to the table that can turn a busted play into a 20 yard gain.
Gurley is a positive contributor in the passing game, but it’s mainly due to McVay’s insistence on getting him the ball in open space where Gurley truly is deadly. Here’s a play that doesn’t really show a ton for Gurley, but the play itself is just so damn impressive that I had to include it. Watch it a couple times and see how Gurley is schemed to get wide open with space to run. Pure brilliance from McVay:
What was missing from the tape? Agility, jump cuts, and the ability to create his own yards on broken plays. Almost all of Gurley’s biggest plays were reliant on the scheme, blocking, and Gurley’s vision, acceleration (still not as good as Zeke), and power. I didn’t see him make people miss in the backfield and I didn’t see him turn a busted play into a big play. My long term concern is that the rest of the league adjusts to the Ram’s scheme and makes it more difficult for those holes to open up.
The good is that Gurley consistently picks the right hole, hits the hole, gets downfield quickly, and has the power to run through arm tackles and convert short yardage downs.
As for fantasy, Gurley is obviously a stud as long as he’s playing for the Ram’s. And if he gets injured? Don’t hesitate to pickup a veteran (like CJ Anderson) that has good vision and is able to play within the scheme.