With the tenth pick in the 2015 Draft, the Rams selected Georgia running back, Todd Gurley. His selection marked the first time a running back went in the first round since 2012. While some were critical of the pick at the time, it would be safe to assume that no one is questioning the selection of the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year anymore. Despite missing the first few games of the season as Gurley recovered from an ACL tear he suffered his final year at Georgia, he went on a tear through the rest of the season, amassing 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. He absolutely lived up to the billing and looks to be a staple in the Rams offense for years to come.
A year after his selection and months since his dominant rookie season finished, there are debates raging about another supremely talented running back prospect; Ezekiel Elliott. The Ohio State stud is thought by many, including me, to be one of the best, if not the best, player in this class. Despite his skill set, many still scoff at the idea of drafting a running back in the top ten, let alone the top five. But how does Elliott stack up to Gurley, who absolutely justified his selection? Let's break it down on a trait by trait basis...
The flashiest of the traits for a running back, Todd Gurley runs away (I'm sorry) with the linear athletic advantage. While no one is going to accuse Ezekiel Elliott of being a slowpoke, Gurley blend of incredible initial burst and long speed put him in an elite tier of NFL athletes. Elliott can absolutely run away from defenses, but his speed doesn't compare to the freakish Gurley.
Power/Tackle Breaking Ability
While Gurley is an immense athlete and shows freakish feats of strength, Elliott's power as a runner is evident on a much more consistent basis. Both welcome contact as runners, but Elliott's tremendous ability to get low and keep his legs churning making him a pain in the ass to tackle. Neither are lightweight, finesse backs and I am splitting hairs a bit, but that is the point. Elliott's blend of natural power, technique as a runner and aggressive mindset make him a terrific power runner.
This is a big win for Elliott. While Gurley makes impressive open field moves, Elliot's ability to change direction in tight quarters is truly marvelous to witness. Elliott has as good of change of direction abilities as I have seen from a running back which says a lot considering Elliot's size. Gurley is not a stiff runner in the slightest, but he is far more of a pure north/south type than Elliott.
Third Down Ability
Another win for Elliott, although it may be by way of exposure. Elliott was a big part of the passing game at Ohio, both as a pass catcher and blocker. Gurley has rarely been a big part of the passing game during his NFL and college career, though he has looked good when given the chances. Elliott's experience and evident savvy give him the win, however. He is an excellent receiver who can function as the primary target or a safety valve on any given passing play. The icing on the cake is how sound he is as a blocker. I don't really prioritize blocking for running backs, but it is hard to ignore how dependable Elliott is when asked to stay in as an extra protector. Elliott's can have an immediate impact for an NFL team on passing downs whereas it's still a bit of a guess how much Gurley will impact there during his career.
Above the shoulders...
In terms of pure vision and creativity, Ezekiel Elliott is Stanley Kubrick. Elliott's ability to anticipate holes opening as a runner and string together moves is awe inspiring. He is the type of player who will almost never get negative yardage and can make three yard runs into 15 yard runs. His ability to create separation as a running back is akin to how great route running wide receivers can get open. While their isn't necessarily a ton of pure speed, Elliott uses minute movements to get away from defenders. Gurley could create as a runner, but he often relied on his freakish athletic ability to do most of the work for him, which would work from time to time, but Elliott's Sherlock Holmes ability to find a crease and Houdini-esque escapability give him a massive edge. It is difficult to judge a running back's brains, but Elliott is one of the most cerebral players I have ever seen.
While this is more subjective, I do think Gurley has as high of a ceiling as any player in the NFL. His rare blend of size, speed and natural strength could make him a Hall of Fame level player. We're talking OJ Simpson/Jim Brown levels of legendary. There is still a lot of rawness to Gurley's game that he has to work through, but there is no denying what his athletic ability can afford him. As for Elliott, he may be maxed out as a player, so there is not much more of a ceiling to reach. However, the player he is now is one that can be a top five NFL running back for the next 8 years. Gurley, who is already a top ten back in the league, for sure has the edge in terms of what he can become as a player.
Gurley spent his entire college career dealing with various injuries. From various dings to serious leg injuries, Gurley has always had something going on, it seems. While Gurley was able to show out his rookie season, there is obvious reason for concern going forward as to how healthy he can stay. Elliott, on the other hand, has been incredibly durable during his time at Ohio State. He has been the bell cow through two straight seasons and never seemed to wear down. For sure that is encouraging considering how people harp on running back durability.
The Winner is...
If you were keeping score, Elliott is the better prospect. This is no slight to Gurley as a prospect or the player he is now, but Elliott's complete skill set as a player, the high level that he does just about everything, makes him too enticing of a prospect. Of course, Gurley is the much better athlete and can become something amazing, but in terms of the player they are each now? Take Elliott over Gurley every single time.