No matter how you look at it, Todd Gurley had a bad season in 2016 – a very bad season.
While he certainly wasn’t the only member of the 32nd-ranked Los Angeles Rams offense to have a poor outing last year, he had been billed as the team’s star player as they debuted in Hollywood with high expectations.
Now entering his third NFL campaign and second in Los Angeles, Gurley is facing a crucial season after being a highly touted, very impressive rookie and then a disappointing sophomore. Without many recent highlights to fuel the hype train, it’s easy to assume Gurley will continue his struggles in 2017, but there are plenty of reasons to believe the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year can return to form.
Out with the old and boring, in with the young and exciting. A change of direction this offseason saw the Rams fire Mr. 7-9 Jeff Fisher and replace him with Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history.
McVay is more than just a pretty face. He comes over after a successful season with the Washington Redskins where he coordinated the league’s third-best offense in 2016.
The 31-year-old coach was forced to use a collaboration of less talented running backs with his former team, but still managed to find a use for everyone. Gurley has shown excitement toward McVay’s new system, calling it a more “Todd-friendly” offense than Fisher’s archaic style.
In this “Todd-friendly” offense, the Rams reportedly deployed Gurley as more than just the traditional downhill runner he’s been in the past.
Gurley was seen in his typical spot, split out wide, and in motion. He also caught more passes as he warmed up to McVay’s West Coast offense. Gurley’s reception total jumped from 21 to 43 between 2015 and 2016 and, while he has yet to find the end zone as a receiver, his skill set should allow him to get there with McVay’s aid.
Potential passing game
In Gurley’s rookie season, he was part of the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack. In his sophomore season, they went up one rung to the 31st spot. Neither of those offenses did anything to help him out.
The Rams’ passing game could still finish in the bottom third in 2017 despite adding All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth and hiring McVay. The real deciding factor will be the development of 2016 first overall pick Jared Goff.
Gurley says he was impressed with Goff’s play in spring practices, which should be taken with a grain of salt as everyone looks good in spring practices. Goff’s first season may have been a bit too much for the quarterback to handle with a predictable offense and a new city to impress, but those issues may not be so prevalent in 2017.
Spotlight cooling off
Coming into L.A. last year, Gurley was billed as the team’s star in a city full of them. He was asked to take on extra media and publicity responsibilities while also filming with HBO’s Hard Knocks, all while training and preparing for the season on the field.
The flub of a debut season in Los Angeles may be a blessing in disguise for the Rams as the city already appears bored with them, while the Chargers will be siphoning the attention as they join the area.
With the jitters now out of the way for everyone – except maybe the head coach – those off-field distractions should be minimal for Gurley and Goff after an abysmal start to the club’s Los Angeles return.
Can’t get worse
Gurley may have characterized the Rams’ 2016 season best when he labelled it “a nightmare” in January while recalling his months of struggles.
The 22-year-old wasn’t good running to the left, right, or middle in 2016 so he has plenty of areas to improve on and plenty of skills to improve with. Gurley is also very aware that a bounce-back is needed, according to NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman.
“It can’t get any worse than it did last year, ” Gurley said.
No other way to go but up, then.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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