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Los Angeles Rams offseason analysis: Running backs

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Todd Gurley is not a bust. That word had been whispered after a dreadful 2016 season in which the Rams’ running back failed to gain more than 85 yards in a game.

No Rams player had more to prove in 2017 than Gurley, who had a fantastic season and led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns. Gurley finished second to New England quarterback Tom Brady in voting for the NFL’s MVP award.

Now, Gurley’s challenge is to maintain a high level in 2018, and the Rams’ depth chart behind him might get tweaked. As part of an ongoing series, here’s an in-depth glance at the Rams’ situation at running back:

2017 STARTERS: Todd Gurley (1,305 yards, 13 touchdowns).

RESERVES: Malcolm Brown (246 yards, one touchdown), Tavon Austin (270 yards, one touchdown), Lance Dunbar (51 yards, one touchdown).

PENDING FREE AGENTS: Dunbar, Brown (restricted).

GRADING 2017

Of all the indictments of former coach Jeff Fisher — the list is long — the usage of Gurley in 2016 might be the worst. The Rams drew up bland plays for Gurley and didn’t execute them well, and most of the time Gurley was on the sideline on third down.

Coach Sean McVay revitalized Gurley, made him the centerpiece of the Rams’ offense and even (gasp!) designed pass plays for him. Gurley had an extraordinary season, and the Rams were undefeated in games in which he touched the ball at least 20 times. His 64 receptions led the team, and produced 788 yards and six touchdowns

Gurley had 276 yards from scrimmage against Tennessee in an MVP-caliber effort, and deservedly was named Offensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press.

It wasn’t all about coaching, though. Gurley reported for training camp in excellent shape and motivated. There were questions, at the start of the season, about whether Gurley did enough to get on the same page with his offensive linemen, but there appeared to be stellar teamwork in that area in 2017.

How much “Gurley hurdle” highlight clips are out there now? Jared Goff had a great year, but Gurley transformed the Rams’ offense from unwatchable to downright dynamic. GRADE: A

ANALYZING 2018

Gurley will be just fine fine. If he trains the same way he did last offseason, and puts forth exactly the same effort next season, he has the talent to remain one of the top offensive players in the NFL.

The challenge here is for McVay to anticipate what are certain to be adjustments from opposing defenses in 2018. Now there is 17 games’ worth of film on the Rams’ offense and how they utilized Gurley, and the Rams won’t get away with throwing as many screen passes as they did in 2017.

McVay took some heat for not giving Gurley the ball enough, but Gurley stayed healthy all year and looked fresh at the end of the season, so perhaps McVay’s plan worked exactly as planned.

Presumably, Brown will return as a very capable primary backup, but the Rams might look at add a versatile, pass-catching back. They tried with Dunbar, who was injured for a major portion of the season. Austin, who took some handoffs and ran some jet sweeps, probably won’t be back next season. LEVEL OF NEED: LOW.

 

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