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Rams gamble on Georgia RB Gurley at No. 10

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher loves running backs. When his Tennessee Titans advanced to the Super Bowl in 1999, it was with Eddie George, the 14th overall choice in the 1996 draft. In eight seasons with Houston and Tennessee, George rushed for 10,009 yards and 64 touchdowns.

After George, it was Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,006 yards for Fisher in 2009.

Thus, it really wasn’t that much of a surprise when the Rams gambled heavily Thursday night, selecting Georgia running back Todd Gurley with the 10th overall choice in the draft. It surely fits Fisher’s philosophy.

While Fisher didn’t want to compare Gurley to George, who rushed for 10,009 yards and 64 touchdowns in eight seasons with Houston and Tennessee, he did say of Gurley, “He’s special, but they’re different. They have different running styles. But when the career is all said and done, he can be that guy.”

George also believes that. He texted Fisher after the pick, writing, “Congratulations. Great pick.”

Gurley becomes the seventh running back on the Rams’ roster and marks the fourth consecutive year the Rams have selected a runner in the draft: Isaiah Pead in the second round in 2012, Zac Stacy in the fifth round in 2013 and Tre Mason in the third round last year.

Taking the immensely talented Gurley is a risk because he is rehabbing from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ Nov. 15 game against Auburn. That game was his first one after returning from a four-game suspension for accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia.

The Rams were present at Gurley’s medical recheck on April 18 at Indianapolis, and Fisher said, “His rehab is coming along fine. We don’t know when he’s gonna be on the field competitively, but we do know he’s not having any issues right now and the docs say he’s ahead of schedule.”

Gurley, who said he was surprised to be selected by the Rams and didn’t visit the team in recent weeks, also echoed Fisher’s sentiment, saying, “There is no timetable. I know I have a lot of work to do. But opening day is a realistic goal.”

Said Fisher, when asked if Gurley could be playing at the beginning of the regular season, “There’s always that possibility, but we’re not going to be specific as to when. I will tell you this: we’re not going to rush it. We may be a little on the conservative side. This is our running back of the future, so it makes no sense to subject him, to put him in a bad situation sooner than we have to. We’ve got outstanding backs on our roster and he’s going to add to that group. When that happens we don’t know, but he’s going to be the running back of the future for a number of years.”

Still, there was significant discussion among the Rams’ hierarchy about the wisdom of adding another player with a torn ACL history, especially considering the injuries suffered in successive years by quarterback Sam Bradford and tackle Jake Long. Both are no longer Rams. Pead missed the 2014 season, also with a torn ACL.

But, they believed it was worth the risk to acquire a talent like Gurley. Fisher admitted the ACL issues have “been a concern of ours. But every situation is different. We don’t have reservations about him getting back to full speed and 100 percent. That’s not going to be an issue with him.”

Snead said the Rams only had a chance at Gurley because of the injury.

“It was a bonus to be sitting there at 10 and get him,” he said. “It was a consensus that he’s a player that helps everybody: our defense, he helps our offense, our offensive line, our receivers, our quarterback. That’s the pick in a nutshell.”

Added Fisher, “A talent like him comes along once in a great while. His body of work speaks for itself. The athletic ability, the strength, the explosion, the acceleration, the instincts he has as a runner. He also has great hands out of the backfield. He’s that complete back. We have a good group; we really like our group in the room, but this is an opportunity that we could not pass up.”

Last season, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Gurley rushed for 911 yards on 123 attempts (7.4 per rush) and nine touchdowns in just six games. In his Georgia career, he totaled 3,285 yards and 36 touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

The pick of Gurley came after the Washington Redskins selected Iowa tackle/guard Brandon Scherff fifth overall and the New York Giants picked Miami tackle Ereck Flowers one choice in front of the Rams. Three picks after the Rams, the New Orleans Saints chose Stanford tackle Andrus Peat.

Conventional wisdom had the Rams selecting a lineman in the first round, but Fisher went against the grain. That prompted an obvious question to Fisher and Snead: “Who’s going to block for him?”

To which Snead said, “They did make this thing a three-day event. We have to live through Friday and Saturday, so we’ll see if we can help improve that position there. We’ll still let the board guide us, but … we’re well aware.”


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