The Atlanta Falcons spent the offseason attempting to upgrade on both sides of the ball, adding three former first-round picks in free agency.
But there remains doubt about the status of one of them.
Running back Todd Gurley was maybe the biggest name the Falcons added in the offseason. But he might also qualify as the biggest question mark as well.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter admitted as much in a Zoom chat with Atlanta media on Thursday, saying that the team doesn’t really know where Gurley stands health-wise now.
“The main question — that no one seems to know — is, you know, what’s his health status?” Koetter asked rhetorically.
Here’s the full answer when Koetter was asked about Gurley:
Dirk Koetter talks about the addition of Todd Gurley and what he brings. pic.twitter.com/fbLbPflmPS
— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) May 14, 2020
Koetter clearly understands he’s getting a talented back, one whom he said has had “an unbelievable career” and who is “a heck of a player.” The Falcons OC also spoke about how Gurley’s transition to Atlanta’s offense will be aided by the fact that there is overlap, scheme-wise, from what the Los Angeles Rams ran with Gurley and what the Falcons are planning to do.
“The run game is very similar conceptually to what they were doing in L.A.,” Koetter said.
Koetter said he spoke to Gurley, who is “fired up” about returning to the state after playing his college ball at Georgia.
‘What’s his workload?’
But Koetter wasn’t ready to commit to a plan yet on how much Gurley might be used in the Falcons’ offense in 2020.
“What’s his workload?” Koetter said. “He averaged about 17 touches a game last year (16.9 to be more precise), which is a little bit lower than he had been when he was All-Pro. We’re just going to have to find that out once we get here and get him working, get him up and running.”
Gurley hasn’t been the same player since suffering a knee injury late in the 2018 season against the Philadelphia Eagles. He had only 14 combined carries in the NFC championship game and Super Bowl to finish that season.
Though Gurley only missed one last game season, the Rams put him on something of a pitch count in 2019, giving him more than 20 touches in only three games. But last season was Gurley’s lowest career output in terms of touches, carries and rush yards in his five NFL seasons.
Gurley also suffered a torn ACL in his final year in college that limited him to six games in 2014.
A bit thin in the backfield?
The Falcons moved on from Devonta Freeman this offseason and replaced him, in essence, with Gurley. They also return their second-, third- and fourth-leading rushers last season in Brian Hill, Quadree Ollison and Ito Smith, with those three players combining to run 122 times for 479 yards and seven TDs and catch 22 passes for 163 yards and one more score.
The Falcons didn’t use a draft pick on a back in 2020. Their only undrafted free-agent signing at the position to date has been Mikey Daniel from South Dakota State. Daniel totaled 1,728 rush yards and 29 touchdowns on 364 carries in 48 career games for the Jackrabbits.
Gurley signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Atlanta. It included a $2 million signing bonus, but his $3.5 million base salary also is fully guaranteed. He also can earn up to an additional $500,000 in performance bonuses.
Are the Falcons going to have another shortage in the backfield if Gurley is limited? They finished the 2019 season in the league’s bottom 10 in several rushing categories — attempts (362, ranked 29th), yards (1,361, ranked 30th), touchdowns (10, ranked 24th) and yards per carry, (3.8, ranked 26th).
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