NFC West Q&A: Can Todd Gurley still become an elite running back?

Gurley needs to regain trust in OL (0:33)

Tedy Bruschi puts the responsibility on Rams head coach Sean McVay to get Gurley to trust the team's run game. (0:33)

Todd Gurley went from Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 to one of the least productive runners of the 2016 season, compiling 885 rushing yards on 278 attempts.

One thing Gurley lacks is supporting cast. The Los Angeles Rams, who ranked last in yards in each of the past two seasons, have way too much work to do on offense. There are reasons to believe that Gurley will be better moving forward, though. Sean McVay, a prodigy when it comes to the way offenses function, should dream up creative ways of opening up running lanes for Gurley. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth will no doubt improve an offense line that was one of the NFL’s worst units last season.

Heading into his second year, Jared Goff still has a lot to prove, and that receiving corps still leaves something to be desired. Because of those two question marks, defenses will continue to stack the box and focus primarily on stopping Gurley, confident the Rams passing attack won’t hurt them all that much.

Do you believe Gurley can still be an elite running back?

Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals reporter: In a nutshell, yes. He’s a talent, and in the NFL, talent will shine when paired with the right pieces. Beyond that, Gurley’s talent didn’t just disappear last season. He averaged 2.7 yards per carry before contact in 2015 compared to 1.59 last season -- a sign he wasn’t getting enough space to move before the defense converged. Some of the blame has to fall on the offensive line, which was improved this offseason through the signing of veteran tackle Whitworth. Whitworth may be 35, but his presence on the line should bolster its physicality and productivity, giving Gurley room and allowing him to run more freely. Gurley has the potential to be one of the best running backs in the NFL, with the talent to rival the likes of David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. Another factor that could fuel his resurgence involves the expected improvement of Goff. If Goff can grow like most players do between their rookie and second seasons, then an improved passing game will open up the ground game for Gurley, allowing him to return to the elite running back conversation.

Nick Wagoner, San Francisco 49ers reporter: This doesn't seem like a simple yes or no question anymore. Gurley had an impressive stretch of brilliance as a rookie, largely buoyed by his big-play ability. Nobody topped his 14 20-plus-yard runs in 2015. Despite those numbers, Gurley was hindered by a questionable offensive line and questionable passing game, and his production dipped in the final stretch of the season. Last year, Gurley couldn't recapture the magic he displayed during the first half of his rookie campaign. Once again, some of the blame has to fall on a poor supporting cast and an unimaginative offense, but Gurley also didn't resemble his 2015 self on the rare occasion when holes were open. He broke 47 tackles as a rookie, good for seventh-best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year, that number dropped to 41, even though Gurley had 71 more touches. As a result, he ripped off only two 20-plus-yard runs and averaged just 3.18 yards per carry. Yes, teams were focused on stopping Gurley, and yes, he didn't have much help, but the truly elite running backs find ways to get yards. Gurley should be better in McVay's offense, but the new head coach's emphasis on passing leads me to believe that Gurley will be less of a focal point for the Rams in 2017. Though McVay's presence might help Gurley put up better numbers, it might also prevent him from becoming the elite back many thought he'd be after his rookie season.

Sheil Kapadia, Seattle Seahawks reporter: I’m not sure about elite, but Gurley can still be a quality back in the NFL. The numbers suggest that blocking was a huge issue for Gurley and the Rams last season. Gurley averaged 1.59 yards before contact, which ranked 41st out of 42 players last season. In 2015, that number was 2.70, good for 10th among running backs. The Rams need to devise some way of threatening defenses with their passing game at least occasionally in order for Gurley to return to his 2015 form.