With clean bill of health, Gurley top back in draft

Former Georgia running back Todd Gurley, fresh off the medical re-check of his surgically repaired knee, will likely be the first running back selected in the first-round of the NFL draft since 2012.

Gurley suffered the knee injury in November during his first game back from his four-game NCAA suspension for accepting cash for signing autographs. The draft is set for April 30 through May 2 in Chicago.

“Despite the injuries, I have Gurley rated considerably higher than (Wisconsin’s Melvin) Gordon III,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said. “I’ve got a late-first, early second-round grade on Gordon.”

McShay, former general manager Charlie Casserly and former NFL personnel man Gil Brandt all agree that Gurley is a top 10 talent. But the knee injury, which may cause him to miss the start of his rookie season, will likely push him down in the draft.

Gurley was talking to scouts from Baltimore, Chicago and Atlanta at Georgia’s Pro Day. Chicago has the seventh pick and the Falcons own the eighth overall pick. The Falcons appear set to draft for need and not select the best player available.

“(But for the knee injury) he’d be a lock as a top 10 pick,” McShay said. “He’s best-five, -six or -seventh talent in this draft.”

If Gurley slips out of the top 10, Detroit (23), Arizona (24), Carolina (25), Baltimore (26) and Dallas (27) are all in need of a running back. Gurley has visited Detroit and Carolina and his scheduled to visit New England.

NFL scouts love Gurley’s running style, his superb vision and willingness to take on tacklers.

“Once he gets going, with his head of steam, he’s an absolute freight train of a runner,” McShay said. “I think the most under rated part of his game is in the passing game. He’s good in protection and he’s so natural catching the football.”

Gurley caught 37 passes for 441 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. He caught 12 passes for 57 yards last season.

“He’s one of the more natural pass catchers at the running back position in this class,” McShay said. “Great hand-to-eye coordination. He adjusts to the ball going outside of frame. He can pluck it on the run and accelerate after the catch.”

McShay has three concerns about Gordon that push him down below Gurley. The former Badger had issues with fumbling, pass protection and pass catching.

“Gordon is just as good in terms of his running skills,” McShay said. “You can argue that he has better vision. …His acceleration is off the charts. He runs hard. He’s running more behind his pads…. I love his competitiveness and fearlessness as a runner.”

Gurley’s knee was re-checked Saturday and there were no red flags, according to NFL Media.

Bill Polian, a former six-time winner of the executive of the year award, shed some light on the medical re-checks.

“They (were) looking to see how the operation has healed,” Polian said. “Where he is in terms of flexibility in the knee. There are various tests that they’ll perform.”

Teams with Gurley on their board likely sent their doctors to the re-check in Indianapolis.

“I’m sure that everybody will be scrutinizing the results,” Polian said. “They all will make their own decisions about how far along the timeline (to recovery) that he is. That decision, in my experience, rests with the doctor.”

If the flexibility is fine and no degenerative joint disease was present, then the NFL teams will be mostly concerned with recovery time.

“There is no question about his ability,” Polian said. “There is no question about his work ethic. There is no question about anything football wise. The question would be will the knee hold up over a five- to seven-year career.”

After Gurley and Gordon, the running back class is deep. “I have seven players with grades in the first three rounds,” McShay said.

Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Miami’s Duke Johnson are McShay’s other top rated running backs.

“But then after that, there are still a bunch of really good players that I think can work in a rotation and provide something for their teams,” McShay said. “Mike Davis from South Carolina (and Stephenson High) could wind up being a really good value pick.”

Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, USC’s Buck Allen, Minnesota’s David Cobb, Florida’s Matt Jones and LSU’s Terrance Magee are other running back expected to be drafted.

“All of those running backs are guys that you can look at other than the top two,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “If you don’t get Gurley and you don’t get Melvin Gordon III, there are an awful lot of other running backs in this draft that can play.”