San Diego selecting a running back with an injury history comparative to their current starter is like going back to your ex-girlfriend and expecting different results. The 6 foot, 230 pound running back out of Georgia has all the talent in the world, but is he worth the risk, and if so, at what point is he worth spending a pick on? Before you can answer that, I think you have to figure out exactly what he brings to the table.
Creating on his own
I think besides decision making before the line of scrimmage, the ability for a running back to create on his own is the single most projectable trait to see if a running back will continue his success at the next level. Comparing Gurley to some other top running backs in the class, he has the most broken tackles and yards after contact per touch by a good amount. It's really incredible.
I'm not finished with Ajayi yet, but he puts up some gaudy numbers himself. As for Gurley his ability to run through tackles without losing balance, and sometimes without breaking stride, speaks to the kind of athleticism he has.
The "worst" game I had for Gurley was this Auburn game where he only broke 7 tackles.
While Gurley was the benefit of some massive running lanes at times, he also avoided negative run plays just as often. The runs where he turns in a negative 2 yard run for a positive 3 yard gain is why I think he can be special. Those are the runs that keep offenses on schedule. The run below is supposed to be an inside zone to the right, but the backside defensive end comes unblocked. Gurley has to make a decision.
Gurley doesn't like what he sees play-side, so cuts back against the grain, of the defensive end while avoiding another arm tackle for a gain of 13. That type of feel for the game, paired with balance are the runs you cannot teach.
Gurley has been compared to some of the greatest running backs of all time, and that's just not fair to either side. If there is a 1st round trait that Gurley lacks, it's his change of direction. I think both the Tennesee and South Carolina games, at times, both exposed Gurley for being able to stop on a dime and change directions without losing speed. That's okay, because that's one of the few things that is keeping him from living up to these Adrian Peterson comparisons.
One thing you don't expect to see for a running back his size is breakaway speed. I truly believe if Gurley was healthy for the Combine he would've ran in the mid to high 4.4's. He not only gets to top speed in a hurry, he has a "sneaky" second gear that DBs don't realize he has until it's too late.
Yes, he scored there. Notice how quickly Gurley gets to top speed.
Before the Line of Scrimmage
I think there were a handful of times where Gurley decided to bounce it, would have his shoulders square with the sideline, and making him much easier to bring down. This doesn't happen often but is worth mentioning. Gurley's best runs are set up because of his ability to press the hole before the line of scrimmage. When I say "best" I know you'll think of 20, 30, or 40 yard gains. There were 4 yard gains where he pressed the line of scrimmage, kept it north and south, and kept his team ahead of the chains. The majority of the time Gurley can resist bouncing runs and relying on his athleticism, that's why he should see continued success at the next level, he is a very good decision maker before the line of scrimmage. Pair that with the ability to avoid negative runs, and having the best balance at his position in the class, you have yourself a star.
Ignoring his Injuries
|Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10||8.5 – 9.0|
|Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round||8.0 – 8.4|
|Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round||7.8 – 7.9|
|Reliable Starter, 2nd Round||7.5 – 7.7|
|Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round||7.0 – 7.4|
|Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round||6.5 – 6.9|
|Productive Backup, 5th Round||6.0 – 6.4|
|Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round||5.5 – 5.9|
|Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round||5.0 – 5.4|
|Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round||4.5 – 4.9|
|Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations||4.0 – 4.4|
Gurley grades out to an 8.1. If I were just grading his on the field, he would probably be the best player in the class. He's fumbled once every 191 attempt. He averaged 38 yards per kickoff return with 2 touchdowns. Gurley doesn't have to come off the field, he's aware in pass protection and will only improve, and is a reliable target out of the backfield. He runs with controlled chaos and it's as if the 1st defender isn't there. He's already setting up the next guy, and that's what special backs do. Like anything else that's too good to be true, there's a caveat. Gurley missed 3 games in 2013 with an ankle injury as well as 2 other portions of games with hip/ankle injuries. That's before you get into the fact that he tore his ACL on November 15th. There's still an outside chance he goes in the 1st, but more likely early 2nd, which is likely going to look like a bargain in a few years if he can stay healthy.
How He Fits as a Charger
I'm looking forward to next year so fans can see the difference between a back like Branden Oliver, and a back like this. Gurley moves the chains. He's not dependent on his offensive line. He'll maximize the big running lanes and stay out of negative runs by breaking tackles in the backfield. Gurley has the patience, speed and vision for the Chargers zone blocking scheme, and the power, balance and burst for when they run power plays. He'd be a great fit, but the injury history is concerning, and there's no signs that will change next year. Would I take him in the 1st? Yes, he's a playmaker that instantly improves your team. I don't have to live with him not panning out, though. So I wouldn't be surprised to see all 32 teams pass on him the 1st time. I also understand that there's real value at the position in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. This is a fascinating player in a fascinating situation.