Todd Gurley’s Health Remains an Interesting Question
Todd Gurley’s medical re-check from the Combine came back looking good and generally the reports of his recovery from a November ACL tear have been pretty positive. The good news on his knee, has kept Gurley in the mix to be the top running back selected in this draft and could even go in the top 20 overall. Though the reports are encouraging, Gurley represents an interesting case for the NFL draft as he offers immense upside, but carries with him greater risk than most other backs.
If Todd Gurley didn’t tear his ACL he not only would have been a lock to be the first running back selected in this draft, but he would be pushing for not only a top 10 selection, but he could even sneak into the top 5. Given how in recent years the running back position has been devalued some due to increased passing, running back by committee approaches and a concern with the longevity of the backs. The last two years has seen not a single back selected on the first day of the draft. Gurley is widely considered the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, and has all the makings of a franchise back capable of carrying a team into the playoffs. Even with the injury concern Gurley looks likely to go in the first round, but the injury leaves teams with three core questions they have to ask themselves.
1: Will Gurley lose any speed, acceleration, or agility long term due to the injury?:
Todd Gurley’s medical re-check went well, but that doesn’t mean he will automatically re-gain his speed, acceleration, quickness, and agility from pre-injury levels. Many players that suffer serious ACL injuries, don’t come back at the same level they were pre-injury. Sometimes it’s just a small loss of skill, that is barely noticeable. Other times though it’s a more significant reduction in skills which can have a major impact on that player’s level of play going forward.
Whatever team drafts Gurley does so without knowing fully what his skill level is going forward. That is a major risk, and one that could give some teams early in the first round a reason to pass on Gurley early. This risk isn’t likely to push Gurley out of the first round, but it’s definitely present and could thin his market.
2: How much can they rely on Gurley this season and what level will his performance be on?:
While Adrian Peterson in 2012 changed the perception of how quickly and effective one could come back from an ACL injury, those types of expectations shouldn’t be placed on Gurley for this season. Typically the recovery period for an ACL injury is 11-12 months, meaning that unless Gurley is well ahead of schedule he might not even be ready for the start of the NFL season. There are definitely exceptions to the 11 month standard, but they are far from a guarantee. In addition it typically takes players over a year to feel where they were at pre-injury (assuming they get back to that point at all).
At the very least Gurley will likely start this season with a strict snap/carry count. It makes no sense to rush Gurley back and perhaps risk further injury. At the worst his recovery has a set back or goes slower than expected and Gurley isn’t even ready to start the season and misses time. Given a likely snap count and the fact that he might not be 100% effective this season. That means that a team would be losing a lot of value from 1 of the 5 years that they would get team control. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does mean Gurley will return less value than other first rounders.
3: How do they weigh the long-term injury risk?:
While there is generally the thought that ACL surgeries are common place in today’s NFL and players aren’t at further risk that simply isn’t the case. NFL players typically have a recurrence in the same knee or suffer an ACL injury in the opposite knee 15% (or more) of the time within 5 years from the initial injury. With the workload that Gurley gets as a running back and the strain on the knee the position entails, one has to believe that Gurley would be riskier than others for another serious knee injury.
With a team looking to invest a first round pick and that 4-5 year contract, they have to weigh the future injury potential in any decision to draft Gurley. The medical reports might be looking good now, but that doesn’t mean that Gurley isn’t at risk for a further injury.