The Los Angeles Rams’ running game in 2019 was not as impactful as it was in previous seasons. They were exposed throughout the season for a lack of a ground game, forcing the coaching staff to finally adjust. When they utilized their backfield properly, the Rams could mix their offense with success. This alleviated the passing game for quarterback Jared Goff, but often running backs were set up to fail. Starting running back Todd Gurley was not used properly and questionable play calls caused the offense to collapse.
Here is how the Rams running backs performed in 2019, where they are today and where they may be in 2020:
Todd Gurley, 5-year pro, 4-year, $57.5 million contract
Gurley had 223 carries for 857 yards and 12 touchdowns for 2019. He also had 31 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns. This is Gurley’s lowest amount of carries since his rookie season in 2015. It is also his lowest yardage and touchdown numbers since 2016, although he did have great success in punching in touchdowns for short yardage.
The Rams extended Gurley’s contract before the 2018 season. It is a four-year, $57.5 million deal through 2024 including $45 million guaranteed. In hindsight, this seems like a bad deal given his previous knee injury and arthritic component as a result. According to Rams management and the coaching staff, they wanted to limit his touches in 2019 to preserve their investment for future seasons.
This was no doubt frustrating for a fierce competitor like Gurley, who still showed bursts of strength this year. This season, he tied Marshall Faulk’s all-time franchise touchdown record with 58. It is highly unlikely the Rams will try to trade him because the receiving team will either have to take on his massive contract, or the Rams will have to pay off some of it. Expect Gurley to start in the backfield in 2020. This can still be beneficial if the Rams avoid “preserving” his production. It’s ok to limit the carries to an extent, but only they use the ground game as a unit, not so much giving up on running the ball.
Malcolm Brown, 5-year pro, 1-year, $1.6 million contract (Remaining)
Brown contributed as much as he was allowed, but he especially made it count with touchdowns at the goal line. This season, he had a career high 69 carries for 255 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 16 yards. Brown and Gurley alternated well against the Chicago Bears in November, but the tandem usage was too little, too late for the rest of the season. Brown is still a talented running back that could potentially start on a different team if traded or at least compete for playing time.
Currently, he is on a 2-year, $3.3 million contract at $1.6 million per year (including $2.1 million guaranteed). He will be an undrafted free agent in 2021.
Darrell Henderson, 1-year pro, 3-year, $3,159,004 (Remaining)
Henderson had 39 carries for 147 yards. He also had four catches for 37 yards. Gurley seen the field more than any other back. Brown played more after he got healthy in the latter half of the season. This limited Henderson’s time on the field after Week 9. The rookie running back also became a starting kick returner replacing the injured JoJo Natson. Henderson had three returns for a total of 58 yards and a long of 23.
The Rams see a future in Henderson as a strong backup to Gurley. His 4-year, $4.212 million rookie contract goes until 2023. Expect the Rams to work more with the young running back during the offseason. The overall goal with Henderson is to alleviate some of the workload from Gurley and possibly replace him in the future.
John Kelly, 2-year pro, ERFA
Kelly was on the practice squad for most of the season. He had three carries for nine yards. All his rushing attempts were against the Atlanta Falcons. Kelly signed a one-year, $48,000 contract with the Rams. It is unknown if the Rams will keep him or promote him from the practice squad, but he is a strong running back with great potential. Along with Henderson, the running back depth chart has more youth coming behind Gurley.
It’s unknown if the Rams will retain Kelly. With Gurley, Brown and Henderson in front of him, Kelly will have to work hard just to stay on the practice squad. The Rams are notorious for bringing in young talented undrafted free agents, so Kelly will have to continue to prove himself in the preseason and training camp.
With the recent firing of running backs coach Skip Peete, the Rams are making a statement that they want to get serious about the run game. Coach Peete’s firing is merely a scapegoat when looking at the bigger picture of more prevalent problems at the Rams’ O-line and offensive playcalling. Peete also helped develop Todd Gurley into the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year as well as having a successful 2018 season. It is that development of the backfield that made him an easy target for dismissal, even though he has no authority to call running plays. Gurley also thought highly of him.
One problem was the lack of execution in passing plays for running backs. There were also missed passing opportunities as Goff was pressured. The Rams will also need to figure how they want to use the running back depth chart. Gurley’s increased usage is a must, even with his arthritic knee component. Expect him to have the same competitive drive he had in previous seasons, but the key is seeing if Rams head coach Sean McVay will bring the offense back to its running back-centered scheme next year.