So I was going back through the blog this morning and noticed our wildly popular video on the SEC East's top returning players and storylines in 2014, and I started thinking: Todd Gurley really hasn't shown his best stuff.
Yeah, just think about that comment for a second. Let it marinate, and before you Bulldogs fans start hurling insults my way, hear me out. For as great as he was as a freshman and as good as he was during an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, we really haven't seen the best of Gurley. And that has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
As a freshman still learning the ropes, he led all SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. That was when he was still kind of going through the motions. Before he missed a month with a nagging ankle injury last year, Gurley rushed for 450 yards and four touchdowns in four games. It should also be noted that he rushed for 73 yards on eight carries before suffering that ankle injury in the first half against LSU.
I think most of us can agree that if Gurley had been healthy all season, he would have pushed for the SEC rushing title and might have had a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Now, I'm not taking anything away from Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, Mike Davis and T.J. Yeldon. They all had great seasons, but even though Gurley missed all of October, he finished the season with 989 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
He showed more explosion in his runs, he's still a bull of a runner and bringing him down with just one person is almost laughable. The fact of the matter is that a healthy Gurley is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and he could look his best in what could be his final year with the Bulldogs.
It might sound cliché, but Gurley just loves getting better. He's a laid-back guy who really does breathe football (and has a "Star Wars" cameo). He doesn't care about media attention. He knows the playbook, he knows how to handle pressure and he knows what it takes to succeed in this league. He's too seasoned not to soar in 2014.
He wants to win, and he wants to leave defenders battered and bruised along the way. Gurley has done that at 100 percent healthy and at 75 percent. His first game back after that nagging ankle injury last year? He rushed for 100 yards, registered 87 receiving yards and recorded two total touchdowns on 20 touches against Florida, which owned one of the nation's best defenses. In his final six games of the season (all after his injury), Gurley ran for 539 yards and six touchdowns. At 100 percent, Gurley would eat that for breakfast.
And he might have to carry more of the load in 2014. Keith Marshall is expected to come back this fall after suffering that nasty, season-ending knee injury just five games in, but there's no guarantee that he will be 100 percent. Sure, the Bulldogs have some talented freshmen coming in (ESPN 300 members Sony Michel and Nick Chubb), but don't expect them to get the sort of practice reps Gurley and Marshall had as freshmen. Add the fact that quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, and Gurley will have more responsibility this year.
Gurley isn't as flashy as Johnny Manziel, but he could have a similar impact for the Bulldogs this year. He's a different kind of face of the program than Jameis Winston, but he has the same sort of ability to carry this team.
The SEC has a knack for producing scary combinations of strength, size and speed at the running back position, but Gurley just looks like a different animal. He runs like a different animal. He fights like a different one, too.
Gurley will be a Heisman front-runner before the season rolls around, and if he can stay upright all year, don't be shocked if he hoists it in early December.