The short answer is NO but let’s dive into the Top 3 running backs of the class to find out why there isn’t a player that matches Gurley’s prowess in this year’s draft.
Although Elliot was selected higher than Gurley, that’s mainly because of the knee concerns Gurley had coming into the draft, he doesn’t compare with the downhill, powerful, and athletic Gurley. As a matter of fact Gurley might have changed the perception of NFL franchises which hadn’t drafted a running back in the first round since 2012. Elliot is a very agile runner who changes direction in tight spaces and fits a zone read offense very efficiently but Gurley’s homerun speed and burst through the line of scrimmage coupled with his north to south running style puts him in a tier above Elliot. Some believe Elliot has the clear advantage in the passing game but my take is that Elliot’s skill level in the passing game is overblown. In his three years at Ohio State, Elliot caught 56 passes compared to Gurley’s 58 receptions at Georgia. They’re both average pass catchers out of the backfield with room for improvement in pass protection and route running. Elliot IS deserving of a first round selection and while he should find plenty of success behind Dallas’ offensive line don’t expect him to be as impressive as Todd Gurley was behind the Rams’ substantially less talented group up front.
The Heisman trophy winner completely destroyed SEC competition (and every other competition) last year in route to a National Championship win with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Henry finished his unanimous first-team All-American 2015 season with a nation leading 2,219 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. The 6’3 250 pound running back dominates with power, force, and unusual top end speed for a back his size. Henry is a true workhorse carrying the ball 395 times in his senior season and is the type of back that gets stronger as the game goes on, punishing fatigued defenders in the fourth quarter. He is a throwback runner that reminds scouts of how the game used to be when the running game truly was at the forefront. With a similar north to south running style to Gurley, what makes Gurley different? There are two distinct characteristics that separate Gurley in this argument. His agility and ability to get to his top end speed a lot faster than Henry. Gurley has the ability to make defenders miss in the backfield and open field and trumps Henry in terms of his ability to maneuver through traffic. Also, Gurley’s explosion before he even gets through the line of scrimmage might be the best in the entire league. I believe Henry has the tools to be a dominant back in the NFL but Gurley has the tools to be one of the most dominant backs of all time.
I will first start by stating that Booker is my guy. I’ve seen many draft evaluators rank Booker lower than guys like Kenneth Dixon, C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins, and Paul Perkins. What is it about Booker that scouts don’t like? He is the most talented all around back in this draft who runs with patience, elusiveness, and power and can catch the ball out the backfield with natural hands. He is an Arian Foster clone in terms of how he plays the position with excellent vision and ability to diagnose cutback lanes which fits a zone running scheme perfectly. All that love but within my appreciation for Booker lies the reason why Gurley is a far more superior back. Booker is more effective as a scheme dependent running back, on the other hand is doesn’t matter what scheme Gurley is in. He can dominate in a zone, power, I-Form, mesh point, or with a subpar offensive line like he did in his rookie season. Booker is my guy but he is no Gurley.
We all know the league is passing the ball more than it has in the history of the NFL but a strong running game and a superb defense is still winning championships i.e. the 2015 Denver Broncos. Although the running backs in this year’s draft don’t match Gurley’s abilities, it is still a pretty decent class and will hopefully debunk the notion of the devaluation of the running back position. If you don’t believe that statement wait until the 2017 class which can potentially boast Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Royce Freeman, Samaje Perine, and Christian McCaffrey.
Click here for more on the debate (pre-draft).