Todd Gurley Arguably Best RB in NFL When Healthy, Falcons OC Dirk Koetter Says

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley runs the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Todd Gurley has plenty to prove as he begins his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons in 2020. 

The former Los Angeles Rams running back has been the subject of plenty of questions about how healthy his knees are and why he didn’t get the ball more last season. 

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told William McFadden of the team’s website that if Gurley’s knees hold up, he shouln’t have much trouble regaining his peak form.

“When healthy, you could argue he’s the best back in the game. Yeah, he’s had down years as far as the number of touches the last couple of years, but none of us really know—if you’re not there, if you’re not on the inside, you don’t really know all the ins and outs of that. Todd is telling us that he’s good to go and that he’s healthy. When you watch his tape from last year, he definitely has times where he looks as good as ever. The question will just be: How often can he do it? How consistently can he do it?”

After rushing for more than 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, Gurley dropped off in 2019, tallying career lows in carries (223) and yards (857). 

Multiple factors might have contributed to that decline.

Rams head coach Sean McVay told ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry in December that he was being “an idiot” with regard to Gurley’s workload. Fellow running backs Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson also took away carries from him.

Yet Gurley’s health remains a sticking point, especially after his trainer told CBS Sports’ Dave Richard that he has an “arthritic component” to his surgically repaired knee. 

“The main question is, that no one seems to know, is what’s his health status? What’s his workload?” Koetter said on a media call in mid-May. “He averaged about 17 touches a game last year, which is a little bit lower than he had been when he was an All-Pro. We’re just gonna have to find that out once we get here and get him working, get him up and running.”

In his comments Tuesday, Koetter elaborated on his previously established concerns:

“I just think that the days of a running back carrying it 30 times in a game, I just don’t see that happening much anymore. People tend to not appreciate how much running backs take a pounding in the NFL. And so, I know there’s been a lot of talk about his carries being down, but he still had 15 carries a game, plus two catches a game. That’s 17 touches out of your 64 that you’re going to average [as a team].

“I would never pretend to be able to get inside of Todd’s head to say did this refresh him? But again, he’s 25 years old. He’s been to the highest point you can go as a running back in this league. All I can go by is when I’ve talked to him, he sounds very excited. … I think he will be energized, but we’ll just have to see how healthy he is.”

Gurley signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Falcons this offseason, which is well below the market value of a three-time Pro Bowler and 2017 Offensive Player of the Year.

If he can stay healthy in 2020 and regains his previous form, he could prove to be one of the year’s biggest free-agent steals.

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