Who is the better running back prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft: Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon?
While the 2015 NFL draft just two months away, it’s going to be here before we know it.
As always, we’ve got plenty of offensive linemen, pass-rushers and wide receivers who will go in the first round. What’s unusual this year is that we have not one but two running backs who could go in the first round.
That hasn’t happened since we saw Trent Richardson, Doug Martin and David Wilson go in 2012. Aside from Martin, none of them have panned out and really, Martin is hanging on by a thread.
Whereas once we saw some backs as ‘can’t miss’ prospects, now it’s safer to wait and grab a guy a little later on. The risk is lower, as is the contract amount. It’s better to shoot for an Eddie Lacy, Gio Bernard or DeMarco Murray than miss on Richardson and friends.
This year though, we might see that change. Both Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley have the basic traits of top-shelf running backs and while nobody expects them to go in the top ten, it shouldn’t surprise you if they are picked near the end of the first round.
Plenty of teams in that area need a running back—Super Bowl participants Seattle and New England, as well as Indianapolis, Baltimore and potentially the Dallas Cowboys (who have not franchise tagged Murray).
The question is, which one goes first? Who is the better back?
Well, we’re about to sort that out with a direct comparison of Gurley vs. Gordon.
If you have a catchier title, add it in the comments.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Weight: 215 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.52 seconds
Gordon is a very smooth runner whose long strides eat up ground quickly, making his acceleration intense. He has a decent 40 time (4.52) but what was impressive at the Combine was how quickly he ate up the first 10, then 20 yards. That initial burst, as well as his 126 inch broad jump show an ability for a nice burst off the snap—something you can see on film as well.
That speed was often too much for defenses to contain, which allowed him to gain 15 yards of better on 40 runs last season. He can also make a tackler miss, which helps on those long runs. Spin moves, jump cut, hurdling defenders—he can do it all.
He also shows an ability to make his own yards when the blocking breaks down in front of him and Gordon was able to adjust and gain yards where another back would take a loss.
He’s not perfect though. Gordon tends to bounce outside too much and that will last all of about three seconds at the pro level. There are times when he really should take the short yardage on an interior run, but instead tries to get outside. While that will work a bit in college, it will not in the NFL. He needs to learn when to take what is there, rather than either bounce the run or hesitate and hope for something better to form.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword—you want a back who will try to make something out of nothing, but he has to be smart enough to see when that won’t work. Gordon has to work on polishing that instinct.
Gordon had some ball security issues as a Badger, and isn’t a huge receiving threat out of the backfield, though that is more of an issue of experience than ability in my opinion.
Overall, Gordon is a very good open-field runner who will break off some huge runs, but he will have a harder time outrunning NFL players than he did at college. Because he isn’t all that fantastic catching passes—and not a tremendous blocker either—he isn’t a three-down back, at least not initially.
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Weight: 222 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: N/A
We’ll start this off with the obvious—Todd Gurley is still recovering from a torn ACL which cost him much of the 2014 season. There was a lot of chatter around this year’s Combine that he wasn’t allowing NFL team doctors to examine him, which people wrongly assumed (because HAWT TAKEZ) was due to the fact that Gurley was hiding something.
According to Chris Mortenson’s ESPN.com report, that was nonsense. He quoted Dr. James Andrews saying the following:
"“I heard some fuss that Gurley wouldn’t let teams examine him and that’s just totally misleading,” said Andrews. “The team physicians I have spoken with who are there — and I have spoken to a bunch of them — were all happy about what they saw. I mean, they’re smart enough to know you can’t have 32 teams pulling and tugging on a knee just 3½ months removed from surgery. But the doctors I spoke with said he looked great and I’d say he’s probably six weeks ahead with his recovery.”"
The article went on to say that Gurley should be ready to go nine months after surgery, which puts him in camp for preseason and that Gurley should be back to the form that had him as a leading Heisman candidate before the injury.
With that out of the way, it’s still completely possible teams will pass on him because of the injury.
Aside from that, what are the pros and cons for Gurley?
Gurley has some good speed but also runs with great power. He has immense leg strength and keeps the pistons churning as he runs, even through contact. It makes him very tough to take down. He also likes to finish his runs and won’t duck out of bounds often. Count that as a good news/bad news situation as he’ll get extra yards but also could wear down more as time goes on.
Gurley also gets a lot of yardage after contact.
A decisive runner, Gurley picks his lane quickly and hits it immediately. That’s not to say he lacks patience as a runner (though he could do with a little more) or hurries a play—he can follow his blockers and wait for them to form up. Just that in the immediacy of the play, he makes his decisions as soon as possible and does not overthink them.
Gurley is also very good at protecting the ball, having fumbled just three times in 510 carries.
Aside from the ACL injury, Gurley missed part of the 2013 season with an ankle injury. I wouldn’t say durability is an issue, but again his hard running style might be something that wears him down.
While he’s decisive, sometimes it seems as if Gurley doesn’t have great field vision and he seems to get locked into one approach and fails to adjust. He isn’t quite as effective as you’d like when there isn’t much running room—he’s not pulling yards out of thin air.
Here’s another question—was Gurley great or was his offensive line? It’s a fair question as Nick Chubb stepped in for Gurley and didn’t miss a beat. So did Georgia have two great backs? Or one great line?
Gurley is a decent receiver out of the backfield, and only an average pass-blocker. Both are things that need to be improved if he is going to be a 3-down back.
Which way to go?
What’s fascinating here (as Commish Goodell is booed on his way up to the podium) is that we have two backs who are at once similar and wildly different.
Both have good size and speed (assuming Gurley comes back from injury at 100 percent).
Gurley is more of an in-between-the-tackles grinder while Gordon is more of an athletic, speed threat. While I liken Gurley to a Marshawn Lynch type of back (which actually resonates even more in light of the injury), I see Gordon as a slightly heftier but less dynamic, but much bigger LeSean McCoy or a slightly heftier Reggie Bush.
It’s almost like picking a flavor of ice cream—your right answer might not work for someone else. What Seattle might covet (Gurley) won’t be as good a fit as what Indianapolis might want (Gordon).
For me, I like the more abusive runner, which makes me a Gurley-man. His combination of power and strength, along with what I expect will be good post-ACL speed fit what I like in a running back a little more than Gordon.
However, I really like Gordon’s skill-set as well and believe he should be very productive with the right team.
I do think, at the end of the day, that barring something weird happening at Pro Days and workouts, that both of these backs will be off the board no later than very early in the second round—and I would not be stunned if they were both gone before that.
Andrew Garda’s work can currently be found on Fansided as well as SportsonEarth.com and the fantasy football site Footballguys.com. You can follow his NCAA basketball work at NJ.com, where he is trying to explain just what is happening with Rutgers and Seton Hall. Garda is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter @andrew_garda.
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