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What are the long-term effects of Todd Gurley’s knee?

Photo credit: USA Today

By now everyone has an opinion on Todd Gurley’s knee. The Los Angeles Rams and head coach Sean McVay have been quiet even when directly questioned. Gurley hasn’t had any surgery. He hasn’t received any treatment that we’re aware of. However, the storyline is that Gurley has arthritis in his knee. This is the same knee that suffered a torn ACL in college, the same knee that was aggravated Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders. The question becomes this; If it is in fact arthritis, what faces the Rams and Gurley in 2019 and beyond?

What exactly is arthritis?

Arthritis is inflammation of a joint. Sound familiar? The result is pain, swelling and stiffness of the affected joint. Arthritis of the knee is known for being particularly debilitating. It can make it difficult to accomplish tasks like climbing stairs let alone hurdling defenders and scoring touchdowns.

Arthritis doesn’t typically affect people younger than 50 and Gurley is only 24. There is no cure for arthritis, though it can be managed in most people. The problem is Gurley isn’t an average person, he is the highest paid running back in the NFL.

Arthritis would mean a loss of cartilage in the knee, causing bone-on-bone friction. The deterioration and pain will only worsen over time. Treatment can help but is limited in effectiveness. Options during the season could include; physical therapy, ice and heat, knee brace and compression wraps, pain medication, corticosteroids, etc.

The truth is, arthritis of the knee can make normal every day tasks difficult. Surviving the grind of a 16-game season, not including playoffs, will be a tough thing to accomplish. It might even be impossible.

What does arthritis mean for Rams and Gurley?

With Arthritis, the Rams cannot expect Gurley to be the same back he was. It just isn’t possible. A lightened workload may maximize Gurley’s production and extend his career slightly. However, the days of him getting over 1,000 yards and contending for touchdown records would be gone.

If the rumors are true, expect the Rams to operate a running back by committee approach. They already brought back Malcolm Brown who has been a good backup. Malcolm Brown received 108 carries over the last two years averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has shown the ability to be utilized as a receiver and a blocker.

The Rams also drafted John Kelly last year. Although Kelly didn’t see much regular season action, we saw him get 52 touches for 215 yards and 3 scores in preseason. Also in the mix is Justin Davis who the Rams seem to value as well. Despite the Rams having three running backs they seem to like, they have still been looking at the position via the 2019 NFL Draft. They’ve even had some in for official private visits.

The Rams could be preparing for Gurley missing time and eventually life without Gurley. The Rams and Gurley are married for now though. With the price tag and injury, a trade or cut is not an option. NFL Network’s Peter Schrager recently even predicted that the Rams draft a running back in the first round on the NFL Draft.

The good news

I do not believe Gurley has arthritis in his knee. Although the Rams and McVay have dodged questions, this could be for many reasons. Maybe they want the NFL to think they need to draft a back. Maybe they just don’t care about the rumors. It could be that they don’t want to be penalized for not reporting an injury.

We could go all day finding hypothetical situations for the lack of communication. What we know is that per McVay, the Rams have no knowledge of Gurley having any treatments or surgery. Gurley himself has not said anything regarding these things either. Nobody, even Rams insiders have leaked any information.

We know Gurley tweaked his knee Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders. It’s easy to presume that after a long season of fighting through that, he simply wore out at the end. It is also important to note that the Rams have not brought C.J. Anderson back despite fitting into the offense well. The Rams haven’t been linked to any other free agent backs either.

Despite looking at running backs in the draft, you can relax. The Rams haven’t been linked to any of the top backs. Everyone they have been linked to has been in the mold of a change of pace guy. The fact is, if the Rams are worried about Gurley’s knee, they aren’t showing it at all. In fact, if he does have arthritis, the Rams are doing a terrible job of preparing for the 2019 season.

Todd Gurley does not have arthritis in his knee despite the random tweet from Jeff Howe of The Athletic: Boston. Plenty of backs have torn ACLs and didn’t develop arthritis during their career. Adrian Peterson is still going, Jamaal Charles had a nice run as well. The evidence just doesn’t add up to arthritis.

What next?

Gurley has averaged 355 touches per year the last two years. Regardless of arthritis or not, his workload needs to be reduced. That is a lot of wear and tear to take. Scaling back his workload throughout the regular season will make him more effective in the playoffs.

The Rams will likely give Kelly some more work this year after having a full season to acclimate to the NFL. The real solution is Brown. Brown averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2018. He isn’t Gurley, but he is effective in all phases of the offense.

The Rams could double Brown’s workload and take Gurley’s touches down from 355 to 275-290 and continue to be just as effective. Gurley did have an ACL tear in college and he will develop wear and tear as his career develops. Giving him a lighter load will extend his career and make him more effective late in the season.

Final thoughts

Todd Gurley doesn’t have arthritis. He can and will continue to be effective in the offense. That doesn’t mean the Rams shouldn’t continue to evaluate his health as his career progresses either. Gurley is still capable of the success he has had under McVay and I expect it to be honestly.

At some point Gurley’s knee will become an issue, the wear and tear will take it’s toll. I don’t expect that until he is 30 or older, as is the case for most running backs. Gurley will be 25 in August, he still has 5-6 years before I expect a significant drop off.


Sources: RamsWire, Pro Football Reference, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Follow Josh Kollack on Twitter @rn_kylo and stay up-to-date on all the latest news and updates on the Los Angeles Rams by following @TalkRams.

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