Every year, leading up to the draft, we have offered a series of longer looks at the collegians that the Cowboys invite to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits. As O.C.C. has capably demonstrated, there has been a strong correlation between who the Cowboys have visited with and who they have drafted - and at what positions - we believe that this constitutes valuable information about their draft plans.
With that in mind, we begin this year's series on the offensive side of the ball, at running back, where we know that the Cowboys have invited at least five candidates. And we'll kick things of with the big daddy of them all, Georgia's Todd Gurley.
There's not a lot about Gurley we can write here that hasn't already been covered ad nauseum. Gurley burst onto the hyper-competitive SEC scene as a freshman after leading his high school team to three consecutive 2A State Championships. That season, 2012, he ran for a cool 1,385 yards (6.2 per carry), notching 17 touchdowns. In the SEC Championship game, he went 22-122 with two touchdowns against the same Alabama defense that savaged Notre Dame a month later in the National Championship Game. For his efforts, Gurley was named second-team All-SEC, earned Freshman All-SEC laurels and was only the second Georgia frosh to rush for 1,000 yards. The first? Guy by the name of Herschel Walker. Perhaps you've heard of him.
As a sophomore, he again averaged six yards per carry but, due to injuries, gained only 989 yards, scoring ten TDs. He also had 30 receptions for 344 yards and five touchdowns. In 2014, Gurley started the season well by running through a very stout Clemson defense (video below) for 198 yards and three scores, adding a 100-yard kick return for good measure. After a four-game suspension for accepted more than $3,000 tfor autographing memorabilia, he returned to the lineup against Auburn. After grinding out a tough 128 yards on 29 carries(and another kickoff return score called back due to penalty), however, he tore his ACL and was done for the season. In limited action, Gurley gained 911 yards (a healthy 7.4 yards per) and nine TDs in 2014. He also had 12 receptions for 57 yards.
Gurley is a complete back, boasting burst to and through the hole and startling acceleration once he gets in the open field. Moreover, he has good vision at the second level and the ability to cut at speed. At the same time, he is proficient in the power game; he can use his 6-foot-1, 232-pound frame to break tackles, to run through linebackers in the hole, or to duck his head down and get the "dirty yards" Jason Garrett loves so well. This combination of speed and power has earned Gurley comparisons to Marshawn Lynch (see scouting reports below) and former All-Pro Jamal Lewis.
As a complete back, Gurley is an able receiver. In his career for the Bulldogs, he totaled 615 receiving yards, scoring six receiving TDs in the air. Oh, and he had two kickoff return touchdowns. Moreover, he's not "just" a football player; Gurley is an all-around deluxe athlete who was a leading high school hurdler and ran track at Georgia in 2013. In fact, he finished his career with the seventh-fastest the 60-meter hurdles time in school history (8.12).
Want to scout like a boss? Here's some more info, starting with a spider graph of his measurables, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:
And over at Draft Breakdown, they have logged seven of Gurley's games, including ridiculous work against Clemson (15-198) and Tennessee (28-208), both from 2014, and both at home. Also, check him out in 2013 versus SEC rivals Florida (home game) and at Auburn. Click on the team name to watch him wreak havoc...
Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Gurley and his game:
Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 1st-ranked RB; 13th overall:
Competitiveness: Runs hard, and churns out yards at end of runs with strength and effort. Good ball security. Strong arms and hands, and runs with ball high and tight. Has only three fumbles (two lost) on 575 career offensive touches (0.5 fumble percentage is in top-third of class).
Vision/Patience: Is occasionally impatient and fails to allow blocks to develop, but showed improvement in that area in 2014. But overall, he is decisive and shows good vision. Doesn't dance. Hits hole hard and also senses cutback lanes. Also shows good vision and aggressiveness as a kick-return specialist.
Agility/Acceleration: Appeared lighter and quicker in 2014 (compared to 2013 tape). Adequate burst to the hole and great burst through the hole. Has outstanding top-end speed for size.A glider who builds speed as he goes, and displays a clear second gear in open field. Shows an effective jump-cut and also has good short-area quickness to make multiple cuts through smaller creases. But once he builds some momentum, he needs to gear down a bit before redirecting.
Power/Balance: Downhill runner with elite power and balance. Compares favorably to Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks. Is naturally high-cut but has learned to run behind pads and to lower shoulder before contact. A load to bring down, especially with a head of steam. Will barrel through defenders in the hole. Shows excellent natural power and balance to bounce off tackles and consistently finishes falling forward. Perfect fit in power-based rushing attack.
Passing Game: Underrated pass-catcher. Shows natural hand-eye coordination. Does a nice job of adjusting to balls thrown outside frame. Consistently plucks on run and transitions quickly upfield. Good acceleration upfield after catch, and is a load to bring down in open field. In pass protection, possesses size and strength to anchor. Above-average awareness and does an adequate job of getting into initial position. Would like to see more aggressiveness with initial contact. Inconsistent sustaining blocks.
Intangibles: In 2014, was suspended four games (accepting $3,000 to autograph memorabilia for multiple dealers over a two-year span). No other off-field issues. Coaches praise his personal and football character. Has developed into a leader. Was a member of UGA track team. Ran a 8.12-second 60-meter hurdle for Bulldogs, which was seventh-fastest in school history. Also ran track for Team USA in Europe during spring and summer of 2011. Pre-business major.
Rob Rang (CBSSports.com) top-ranked RB; 18th overall:
Strengths: Built for the NFL with a muscle-bound, physical frame and naturally lowers his pads and squares his shoulders to attack the line of scrimmage and bounce off defenders. He runs with natural balance, power and momentum that makes him tough to slow down, rarely conceding with the first tackler.
Reads the first line of attack very well and senses daylight to hit holes with authority and quickness to stick-and-go, accelerating extremely well in his cuts. Knows how to shift his weight extremely well for a 232-pounder and strings together moves with devastating jump cuts and long strides to eat up yards.
Soft, natural hands out of the backfield and is a willing, cognizant blocker in pass protection.
Weaknesses: Bit taller than ideal. Torn ACL in November of 2014 a big red flag that will cause pause for NFL teams with a timetable for return around mid-August. Also missed three games in 2013 due to an ankle injury, so durability concerns are significant, especially considering the physical punishment he has absorbed in the SEC over the past three seasons.
Compares to: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks -- Like Lynch, Gurley is best known for simply bowling over defenders, but each back's success is also a testament to good vision, surprisingly light feet and balance to bounce off would-be tacklers.
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) top-ranked RB; 22nd overall:
Strengths: Rare blend of speed and power. Immense power in legs and shows balance through contact. Shreds arm tackles and has speed to house it. Very hard to tackle on an angle. Professional, decisive runner. Presses line of scrimmage to set up his cut-back runs. Gets downhill with knee bend and forward lean, staying small through the hole. Uses quick, tight steps to second level. Will sink and explode into tackler or side-step and jet, causing hesitation in downhill safeties with their approach. Converts "speed to power" between tackles and around corner. Rarely looks to run out of bounds and finishes his runs. Able to factor out of the backfield with soft hands and ability to adjust to throws. In 2014, churned out an amazing 61.9 percent of his rushing yardage after contact. Strong hands and carries ball tight to his body. Only three fumbles in 510 carries.
Weaknesses: Missed three games in 2013 due to ankle injury and tore his ACL in 2014. Questions about whether he'll return back to his play speed are a big concern. Vision is average. Still gaining feel as a zone runner. Too locked into looking for cutback lanes when play-side run is open. Can get better at setting up blockers in space. Average creativity in tight quarters. Patience and tempo as a runner can improve. Quick passing attack limited his protection opportunities but was very average when given the shot.
NFL Comparison: Marshawn Lynch
Bob Sturm (Dallas Morning News):
What I liked: There is too much to discuss in this category. He is just silly in his ability with his size, his disposition, his relentless effort, and then his track-star speed. This combination of skills is rare as can be and makes many look to Adrian Peterson as a fair comp coming out of college. He absolutely does it all. He runs a fine screen game and has hands that can catch well. He is a willing and generally capable blitz pickup guy which is one of those prerequisites in the NFL. But, more than anything, he is one of those rare "every play may be a touchdown" running backs that is great when his line blocks, but he is able to make guys miss on his own and once he breaks through the line, almost no defensive back can pull off the combination task of catching him and then bringing him down. One guy doesn't get him down very often. He will not be caught from behind. Gurley is the type of guy that doesn't come around very often and when he does you have a hard time picking him apart. He falls forward, he is violent, and he doesn't seem to wear out as the game goes along. He will make you talk to the screen a few times every game with feats of unique quality.
What I did not like: Well, clearly blowing out his ACL against Auburn better be top of mind when you are talking about a player who has speed traits that are uncommon. We feel better about the ACL process these days, but clearly that is where you would have to start if we were to report a concern. Beyond that, he doesn't win all of his blitz pickups, but he is also often giving up 25 pounds to a linebacker. The only other nit-pick is that when he was hurt, his backup, Nick Chubb, was also very productive and put up huge numbers. I assume that means because Chubb is a guy we will talk about in an upcoming draft, rather than that meaning Gurley isn't the real deal.
Summary: Sometimes a guy comes along and just looks like he is playing with kids who are younger trying to stop him - yet, he is playing in the SEC where NFL prospects are on nearly every team he plays against. He is just a dazzling player with uncommon traits and a combination that can beat you in a number of ways. His ACL injury actually benefits a team like Dallas because maybe that is how a guy like that falls all the way to #27. I doubt he falls that far, but I have been asked a number of times if I would take him if he does drop to Dallas, despite the needs this team has elsewhere. My answer is not even required a second thought. Absolutely. He is a guy who appears to be a stud and as close to a can't miss prospect at RB that we have seen in a half-dozen drafts. I don't know how he would get to #27, but it would require no hesitation. He is going to be something in the NFL.
Go here for a review of Gurley's game by the great Joey Ickes.
Our panel of scouts is in agreement regarding Gurley's draft position: he's the top-ranked runner in this class. The range here is pretty narrow, from the thirteenth to the twenty-second pick; following this, he should go somewhere in the middle of the first round. I will happily place him in the first round on my "little board." There's really no debate. And he'd be a terrific fit for what the Cowboys want to do, which is to pound the ball with a big, multi-facted back behind their big, talented offensive line.
The big story surrounding Gurley, obviously, is the progress he has made in his rehab work. A medical check slated for April 18 should prove to be extremely important for his draft positioning. And that provides a dose of uncertainty Gurley's draft status as it pertains to the Cowboys: if his knee checks out, there's almost no way he drops to the 27th pick, so if he does drop, it's because there are still questions about his knee. It's hard to imagine they'll see Todd Gurley on their board unless he's he's a high-risk pick.
Clearly, the optimal situation is that a healthy Gurley falls to 27, the Cowboys snatch him up and everybody's happy. Any other scenarios make me very nervous...
Next up: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon