The NFL draft has not had a running back selected in the first round since the 2012 draft when the Cleveland Browns selected Trent Richardson. This year however, seems to be a different story. Many analysts and football fans alike believe that there will be not just one, but two running backs selected in the first round of the 2015 draft.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) April 14, 2015
I think we can all agree that the two best running backs in the draft are Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. In 2014, Fantasy Football players were deciding between Jeremy Hill and Carlos Hyde, and writer Jack Delaney suggested Hill as the better value. A big part of a running back’s success will revolve around the organization he plays for, but let’s take an early look at Gordon and Gurley for 2015 Fantasy Football leagues.
The former Wisconsin running back marched his way into the record books last season, tallying 2,587 rushing yards – second most in FBS history in a single season (Barry Sanders holds the record). Gordon’s ridiculous 29 touchdowns off his 343 carries in his senior season, proves that he is more than capable of being a workhorse.
At 6’1” 215 lbs, Gordon ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Combine, which was fifth fastest for running backs. He also benched 225 lbs an impressive 19 times. The man is an athletic freak.
Gordon possesses the perfect blend of speed and strength, and it showed during his college career. He has a unique running style that shows similarities to Adrian Peterson. The only gripe about Gordon is that he sometimes looks to bounce the run to the outside more than he should, and he coughed up 12 fumbles in the past three seasons.
It would certainly have been a treat to see the former Georgia Bulldog play a full 2014 season. Gurley was suspended for four games last season for accepting money for his autograph. Upon return, he tore his ACL, ending his 2014 season.
When Gurley was on the field, however, he was an absolute animal. He started six games in 2014 and rushed for 911 yards to go along with nine touchdowns.
Because of the recent ACL injury, Gurley was unable to participate in most of the drills at the NFL combine, but he did bench 225 lbs. 17 times. He is arguably the most powerful and explosive runner in the draft. The only concern is that he has missed 12 games over the past two seasons due to injuries and the aforementioned suspension.
|Name||Melvin Gordon||Todd Gurley|
|Weight||215 lbs.||222 lbs.|
|40 Yd Dash||4.52||DNP|
|Bench Press||19 (225 lbs)||17 (225 lbs)|
|2012-13 Rushing yards||621||1385|
|2012-13 Rushing TDs||3||17|
|2012-13 Receiving yards||65||117|
|2012-13 Receiving TDs||1||0|
|2013-14 Rushing yards||1609||989|
|2013-14 Rushing TDs||12||10|
|2013-14 Receiving yards||10||441|
|2013-14 Receiving TDs||0||6|
|2014-15 Rushing yards||2587||911|
|2014-15 Rushing TDs||29||9|
|2014-15 Receiving yards||153||57|
|2014-15 Receiving TDs||3||0|
As you can see above, both backs are very similar in body size. Gurley does however, have an additional 10 or so pounds to his build, which really compliments his aggressive power running style. On film, both backs display great power and vision, but you have to give the edge to Gordon on his acceleration and explosiveness into the open field.
I may be one of the few, but based on overall skill set, health, and history, I prefer Gordon over Gurley. Most mock drafts have Gurley going in the middle of Round 1, with Gordon five to ten picks behind him. Do not be surprised to see both of these guys drafted much sooner than predicted. (I’m looking at you Jacksonville and New York!)
Both backs will eventually be able to produce wherever they end up, but how important of a role is landing with one team over another?
A Look at the Past
I am a big believer that rookie running backs are undervalued in the Fantasy realm. That being said, you need to be able to accurately identify how much production you can expect from a rookie running back rather than trusting in fool’s gold.
For example, in 2013, Eddie Lacy was the highest drafted rookie running back with an ADP of 3.05 according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. He was well deserved of that honor, but I still think he should have been drafted much higher. He was drafted after guys like David Wilson (2.04, ew) and Maurice Jones-Drew (2.07, *vomits*). The main reason that Lacy was not drafted higher, aside from the infamous “fat photo,” was because he was a rookie.
It is sometimes hard to know what to expect from rookies, but at the running back position, we can paint a fairly accurate portrait. Lacy was heading to the Packers who had and still have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. He also had almost nobody to contend with for the starting gig, and don’t you dare say Johnathan Franklin was competition. Situation is the most important factor when making accurate rookie projections, however, and it played a major difference in production between Lacy and fellow 2013 rookie RB Montee Ball.
Ball was the fourth highest drafted rookie with an ADP of 5.05. Ball was headed to Denver who also had and still has one of the top tier offenses in the NFL. The only difference is, Ball found himself in a competition for the starting role with teammates: Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, and C.J. Anderson.
Most of us just assumed Ball would all but walk away with the job because he was the shiny new toy with an impressive college career. As you already know, Moreno handled the work horse duties for the majority of the season and Ball was playing second-fiddle with Hillman in 2013.
What does this have to do with Gurley and Gordon?
Situation is extremely important. Both players are enormously talented, but before spending a premium draft pick on them, we need to be sure that they are going to a situation where they can make an immediate impact. Lacy ended that 2013 season sixth in fantasy points among RB’s, while Ball finished 41st. That could be the difference in celebrating your Fantasy championship, or having an intense shower-cry for missing the playoffs for another season.
Chances are both Gurley and Gordon will do just fine in the NFL, and we will have to wait years to answer which running back is better.
But for Fantasy purposes, we only have to wait 12 days until the NFL draft…