"BEST IF READ WITH A MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY VOICE"
January 26th, 2017
This is a story about five young men. In an earlier era, they may have shared a common "money shot" printed in shiny gold font on the business cards that got passed out to fine young women at frat parties, or if they were lucky enough to have bouncer hook ups, at college bars, reading "Georgia Bulldogs: Running Back."
This train of thought started chugging with a trade offer in one of my FFPC Dynasty leagues early this morning, and what began as a thought filled email reply morphed into this quest as I channeled my inner Steve Eisman #thebigshort and once this idea got into my head, I just had to let it run its course.
With the many ways one can frame an idea, I find the use of that motor-lifting workshop tool to be the most fun.
Let us begin with the beginning. :-)
The year was 2012. Facebook is king, but you keep hearing more and more whispers of some site called Twitter that your friends are joining. (Run while you still can!) Your poolside, lakeside, or mountainside vacation was a blast, but the chill in the air makes it quite clear that summer is over. You were blown away at how your new favorite HBO series could kill off its main characters and not miss a beat. It's a crisp September morning and another fine college football season is kicking off to bring you joy through the upcoming fall and winter months. You crack open a beer, flip on the flat screen, rock back the recliner and watch as they rotate in an 18 year old true-freshman phenom from Baltimore, MD. (Mental note...may leave open a possible future with the Ravens before he washes up.) This kid is handed the ball a mere eight times, but turns that token workload into 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns! You quickly learn his name: Todd Gurley.
Fast forward a few short years and that young mans name is being called out by Roger Goodell early into the NFL draft's first night as a top 10 selection and the first running back off the board. He glides to the stage in his sharply dressed suit and million dollar smile, and the comparisons begin...
"Top RB to come out of college since Adrian Peterson..."
"Comps to Marshawn Lynch but with an added gear..."
You guessed it...lots of hype.
You know it, I know it, but I'm not so sure if many others in general know it. What is "it?" ...why of course it is that flopping fish out of water followed by a piano exploding!
Really though, the real "it" is that deep down, Gurley's popularity comes at least partly from his marketability. Dude has an original look. Good guy. No stranger to the iron free weights part of the gym. Well spoken and tall. Nice teeth. Chic's dig him. He makes people stop and watch his commercials because he looks damn original and interesting and super cool.
A stubby and balding, yellow toothed, out of shape RB with identical NFL stats on the other hand may already be getting phased out a bit more in La La Land. At least that is one mans theory.
Sure, he had nice stats in college, but they were boosted by people like myself looking over his game logs, and then filling in all of those missed (due to injuries) games with imaginary real games and thinking his upside was through the roof. But is it?
Back to 2012.
Meet Keith Marshall. Roughly the same age (6 months older) as Gurley, and also an 18 year old true freshman. Subbing in and out behind the same Georgia Bulldogs road grading offensive line. Marshall ended the season with slightly better rushing and receiving numbers on a per touch basis than Gurley did in what turned out to be Gurley's best statistical season to date. WTF??? Gurley's best season of NCAA + NFL football came as an 18 year old "straight outta high school" true freshman???
For simplicity, I will represent the following terms in a shortened code from here on. I'll be using scrimmage statistics only, no special teams or return stats included.
YPC = Yards Per Carry
YPR = Yards Per Reception
YPT = Yards Per Touch (Combining YPC and YPR)
TDPT = TouchDowns Per Touch
TC = Touch Count
Todd Gurley 2012: (14 games) 238 TC: 6.2 YPC, 7.3 YPR, .071 TDPT, 6.31 YPT
Keith Marshall 2012: (11 games) 128 TC: 6.5 YPC, 8.3 YPR, .070 TDPT, 6.64 YPT
No need to wipe your eyes...those numbers look eerily similar. "Hey, what can I say...Georgia knows how to pick 'em" you might say as you walk to get another cold one. "Our scouts are the best at recruiting, we take pride in our run game, and the Bulldog motto is to "Smash it down their throats until they show they can stop us!" OK, then. Let's look deeper.
How about Todd's 2013 sophomore season in Athens? Was that also Greek God-like? Well...let's take a look.
What was that? Who is Todd? You know...Gurley. Todd Gurley. Why am I calling him Todd? I am well aware it sounds a lot like toad or a preppy white kid, but damn it that's his name! Pipe down.
Now our old pal Keith from 2012 had the misfortune of going down with major injury not once, but twice in back-to-back seasons. He only lasted into week five in 2013, and week three in 2014, both times missing the remainder of the season. The good news is he is currently under contract in the NFL, so let's hope he can get right. For this story though, he has gone the way of Ned Stark.
Here we get a different look at that Bulldog Machine, as they had their top two running backs go down to injury with Todd getting hurt in week four and then Keith getting hurt after a mere five carries into week five. Georgia being Georgia, they just plugged in a couple more of those highly recruited guys old Recliner Ralph mentioned a while back. These two running backs go by the names of Lajyrise (DMV ready!) and Brendan (Geez...ANOTHER preppy white kid name! Wait...what?...the elusive rarely seen...never mind.) Lajyrise Green goes by the more familiar nickname "J.J." and together with Brendan Douglas, here is what they combined to do while filling the running back role for three weeks (weeks 5, 6 and 7) until Gurley came back in week eight. I shall call them Joe and Johnny Blow. (AKA "The Blow Brothers")
Todd Gurley 2013: (10 games) 202 TC: 6.0 YPC, 11.9 YPR, .079 TDPT, 7.07 YPT
Blow Brothers 2013: (3 games) 90 TC: 5.1 YPC, 9.6 YPR, .020 TDPT, 6.35 YPT
Now I know what you're thinking. "Damn, all of those stupid numbers and letters looks like Chinese to me." I said pipe down, Ralph! What I really think you might see if you look close here is that Gurley added some "eliteness" to his game insofar as his receiving chops and his yards per touch. His yards per carry dropped by a bit, but he gained everywhere else. The other thing worth noting is this...
While he indeed crushed the Blow Brothers in every single category, they still managed to put up very high level production in that system. This is like the baseline that their system provides to running back laymen. Their entire team blocks so well that the 5 yards per carry are almost baked into the system. The Rams nor 90% of the NFL has an offensive line that dominant. There is something more you should know. J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas were not a couple of experienced veteran Bulldogs they just plugged in to fill the void. Nope. Both of the Blow Brothers were FRESHMEN and these were weeks 5, 6 and 7, so they had only a single month worth of college experience in a new system and in the SEC to boot! Compare their freshman numbers to Todd's freshmen numbers from 2012 and they don't look bad at all. If you are blind like me and have all of your screens zoomed in, go ahead and toggle up and look. Hence...GEORGIA MACHINE. Another footnote to show the magnitude of this well oiled running-based system is how our buddies Lajyrise and Brendan* (*turns out he actually was white) went on to anti-stardom, with one having to both transfer to another college and switch position to defense in order to continue his career and the other has faded into Bulldog obscurity.
How about Gurley's Junior season in 2014? He must be getting bigger, stronger, smarter and faster at the ripe old age of 20, right? Well...let's look at that "smarter" one first, shall we?
I'm not one to make judgments...aw hell, yes I am! Where's the fun in being all reseeeeerved and proper like some boring Amish hat maker? Todd got popped for selling his wares (autographs and some memorabilia, mostly), and the rules are the rules, so the NCAA suspended him for four games. (weeks 6-9) Up until that point, Todd had been just CRUSHING IT with game logs that are frame-worthy. Like the character Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, he seemed to be saying "Get Over Here" to the Georgia all time single season rushing record...then the suspension hit and just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, he noticed his cave had a frozen puddle on the ground. Stepping out from the shadows comes Sub Zero: otherwise know as 18 year old true freshman Nicholas Jamaal Chubb.
Finally, the first worthy opponent to challenge Gurley talent-wise since our old pal Keith left the scene!
...and challenge he did.
When the dust settled on the 2014 season, these results were just insane...
Todd Gurley 2014: (6 games) 135 TC: 7.4 YPC, 4.8 YPR, .066 TDPT, 7.17 YPT
Now the yards per carry and yards per reception look almost like they should be flipped, but Gurley was dropping an average of 165 yards and 2 full TD per game through week five. But....
But? But what? What are you talking about with this "But..." thing there?
Enter The Chubb!
For some context, Nicholas Jamaal Chubb wasn't a junior like Todd, who now had three season of summer sessions and meetings and practice and film room and playbook study, plus two seasons of experience vs. SEC competition. Nope, Nick was chilling in high school five month before his first Bulldog game. Chilling like Sub Zero. No fear of the big stage. Ice in his veins. What he did is now legend.
In Chubb's first game as the new true freshman starter after only one summer to prep and a measly five weeks of games to learn from , he drops 174 yards from scrimmage and a TD! He then follows that up in his second game as starter with 210 yards and 2 TD! SEC! Third game you ask? 215 yards and 2 more TD! Legend.
To make matters worse for Gurley, in his very first game back off of suspension, rather than reclaiming his Alpha status, he unfortunately ended up tearing his ACL, and was lost for the season.
Nick Chubb's final freshman numbers looked like this. I'll compare them to Todd's almost identical touch count freshman year (which were his best overall totals) side by side...
Todd Gurley 2012: (14 games) 238 TC: 6.2 YPC, 7.3 YPR, .071 TDPT, 6.31 YPT (Gurley's freshman season)
Nick Chubb 2014: (13 games) 237 TC: 7.1 YPC, 11.8 YPR, .067 TDPT, 7.42 YPT (Chubb's freshman season)
Chubb-Rock totals from 2014 in the games Gurley missed and Chubb was running the show: (7 games) 188 yards from scrimmage per game, 1.6 TD per game. He saved his best for last in the BELK BOWL (WTF?) where he went for 266 yards rushing and 2 TD!
Now it is sort of fun noting (and as yet another dig) that even in the NFL, his seat warmer RB (while the rookie Gurley was getting his body ready to play) Benny Cunningham went for 122 yards from scrimmage week 1 vs. the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense who one game (that counts) prior, won Superbowl XLVIII 43-8 over the Broncos! I'm just sayin. ;-)
Gurley had a pretty damn good (not super great) rookie season with the Rams, and that was taking into account the recent surgery that forced him to sit out much of the NFL combine, so most were holding their expectations back a bit as he healed. Now his second season as a pro had most in the fantasy realm drooling over what Todd could do. Plenty of time removed from surgery, a year of experience under his belt, the sky was the limit and he was being drafted as such with the expectation of improvements across the board.
Then 2016 happened.
Todd Gurley 2016: (16 games! Career best!) 321 TC: (career best!) 3.2 YPC (YIKES!!! Career worst!), 7.6 YPR, .018 TDPT (YIKES!!! Career worst!), 3.77 YPT (YIKES!!! Career worst!)
Outside of FINALLY being used more in the passing game, he suffered mass-regression. Blame the move to Los Angeles and the distractions that come with coastal California living if you wish. Blame that idiot they called coach. Blame the team lacking any threat of a passing attack. Blame the offensive line and lack of creativity in play calling. Blame my stuffed polar bear named "Ssssnowbear!" Whatever floats your boat, those numbers were downright scary.
After reading all of this, and then breaking down Gurley's brand spanking new 2016 season where he fell to a less than pedestrian 3.78 yards per touch (YIKES! Even Trent Richardson had an NFL career average of 4.04 yards per touch!) it should at the very least get your radar up.
Speaking of ole' TRich...I have a theory that he would make an excellent change of pace RB with receiving chops similar to a poor mans Tevin Coleman or a Duke Johnson, but I think the premature balding completely stole his mojo.
Hell, that's also worse than the 4.7 yards per touch that Tre Mason had in 2014 when he had high hopes to run that town. The very season before Gurley's name was called out in the draft, causing Tre to go sobbingly running up the stairs with his face in his hands a la old freckles herself Janet Brady...never to be heard from again. We miss you, Tre!
So there it is...my gift to all of you Todd dynasty owners. Sell... Sell... SELL!!! Todd Gurley has ZERO touchdown receptions in the past 3 years despite 76 receptions! Where is the wiggle? Where is the drive? Remove his first 5 games, and his career NFL rushing avgerage is 3.43 YPC! Elite? You can get a boatload in trade now, but it may dry up a bit. May not dry up a ton, but juuuuust enough to bleed his trade value as well as bleeding your team that expected the production of a top startup pick.
This was a prophesy wrapped up in a tale of five young men. Was one of them truly the elite once-in-a-generation talent that was proclaimed? Is it more the system they play in? With Chubb deciding to stay and play one more season behind that Road Grading offensive line, we will have to wait and see who (if any) was the real generational player, and who may be just a marketable mirage. Can you get yards on your own, or do you need those big holes?
I imagine all five of our characters in this story scooting over and squeezing into that beautiful black '65 Lincoln Continental from the intro to Entourage. Los Angeles sunset turning to darkness. Warm slow-rolling ocean breeze fills the air with a dancing mix of salt water and restaurant foods as they close the suicide doors and turn on some tunes. Todd, Keith, J.J., Brendan and Nick. Bulldogs. As they start to pull away and merge into cruising SoCal traffic with eye candy in all directions, I see them high five in celebration and can make out the words "They finally came, check 'em out!"
Puzzled, I start to walk away, then turn around just in time to catch a glimpse of the new glossy yellow font on black background, throwback legacy license plate that reads...
" LAJYRISE." :-)