The Falcons haven’t had a running back crack 1,000 yards since 2016, and their declining backfield play has added pressure to an aging Matt Ryan under center.
Atlanta released DeVonta Freeman earlier in the offseason in an attempt to shuffle the cards of its run game. It replaced Freeman with a risky bet in Todd Gurley, who like Freeman has seen star production drop off dramatically of late.
Gurley on Tuesday passed his physical with the Falcons, indicating doubts surrounding the health of his left knee could be somewhat overblown.
A healthy Gurley would of course be a game-changer for the team. Since the last 1,000-yard rushing season in Atlanta, Gurley has racked up 3,413 rushing yards and 42 rushing touchdowns while being one of the NFL’s better receiving backs.
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Gurley isn’t the first suspect ex-Ram the Falcons have taken a flier on during the past decade.
The Steven Jackson experiment of 2013 and 2014 offered a look at the perils of trusting a longtime workhorse with a feature role. Jackson, who had surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in eight straight campaigns before joining Atlanta, averaged 3.6 yards per carry with the team.
Gurley doesn’t have the mileage Jackson did — at 25, the Georgia product is five years younger than Jackson was upon coming to the Falcons. Still, his surgically repaired knee, which according to some reports is affected by an an arthritic condition, makes him perhaps less capable of a rebound than his age would suggest.
The Falcons have the pieces to be a top-tier offense, as they have been several times during the Matt Ryan era. But Gurley’s health will be a key factor in determining whether their offense can elevate to its full potential.
A passed physical along with positive remarks from his new coaching staff are positive signs that Gurley is prepared to surprise fans. But he’ll be up against the history of a position that has not lent itself to longevity.