Los Angeles is a city of stars.
It goes big and wants to be entertained by the best and brightest.
So, as the NFL returns to Hollywood for the first time in 21 years, L.A., a place that has witnessed the greatness of Kobe, Magic, Kershaw and Dickerson, has been impatiently waiting to get a glimpse of its next big star.
Less than two years after he sustained a major knee injury, and with major plans still ahead, the Rams have held the future of Los Angeles football, running back Todd Gurley, primarily in bubble wrap. Gurley played just one drive in the preseason, in the second game. And he did just fine as he compiled 20 yards and a touchdown on 4 carries.
For a city that has waited more than two decades for a new pro football star, that is kind of cruel. Yet, Rams coach Jeff Fisher will wait to unwrap Gurley in a Week 1 Monday Night Football game at San Francisco.
And when Rams fans finally get an extended look at Gurley, they are going to like what they see.
“He has a chance to be a generational running back,” former Chicago and Pittsburgh running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said of Gurley. “He has rare gifts.”
While still in St. Louis, the Rams made somewhat of a surprise pick by taking Gurley No. 10 overall. The pick was unexpected because he was coming off a torn ACL the season before while at Georgia and the fact that the NFL had been devaluing running backs somewhat. Before Gurley, there was a two-year run in which a running back was not taken in the first round of the draft. Plus, very few recent first-round running backs had made an impact.
Gurley instantly rewarded the Rams for his high draft selection.
He regained his special speed and made a major impact as a rookie with the Rams. Gurley had 1,106 rushing yards on 229 carries, with 10 touchdowns.
Now that he showed he can handle the rigors of the NFL and he is another year removed from his collegiate injury, expect Gurley’s run totals to increase. It is not out of the question to think Gurley can run the ball 300 times in 2016.
“I think a lot of people make the mistake to think that it is not a running league anymore,” Hoge said. “Yes, you need to throw the ball, but you also need to run the ball, or the pass isn’t going to work. Look at the best teams. They can all run the ball. Gurley gives the Rams that type of capability.”
Gurley gives the Rams a terrific outlet as they begin the Jared Goff era at quarterback. Goff, who the Rams gave up a gaggle of draft picks to Tennessee for the right to pick him No. 1 overall, has had trouble adjusting to the NFL and has yet to unseat journeyman Case Keenum. Still, the Rams mortgaged future drafts because they think Gurley and Goff will make a perfect pair.
“He is going to be Goff’s safety valve,” said former NFL scout John Middlekauf. “Gurley can catch balls out of the back field and really make a difference.”
Many scouts believe the 22-year-old Gurley already has arrived as an elite running back, and rank him alongside Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell as the NFL’s best backs.
Hoge said Gurley has a chance to be remembered as one of the game’s best players of this generation because he has no flaws.
“He has elite spontaneous agility and power; you just don’t see that type of body control,” Hoge said of the 6-foot-1, 227-pound Gurley. “Then, he has explosive speed. That all puts him in a unique category.”
Hoge said he loved the way Gurley attacked defenses as a rookie.
“He already displayed a strong understanding of defenses,” Hoge said. “In the NFL, backs just can’t run to daylight. Sometimes, there isn’t a lot of daylight. But he finds it very quickly. He seems to understand blocking schemes and he has great instincts. All of these gifts makes me think we are seeing a generational back.”
It seems like Gurley is fully confident he will live up to those expectations. USA Today asked him if he ever thinks about becoming the next 2,000-yard running back.
“Sometimes,” Gurley said. “I know it’s hard. I don’t really think about it, but I know my teammates harp on it. I just go out and play my game.”
What a “welcome back” gift to Los Angeles it will be.