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2015 NFL Draft: Georgia RB Todd Gurley a dark-horse candidate for Giants at No. 9

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Would the Giants really grab a running back, even one this good, with the ninth overall pick?

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

By now everyone has decided on their guy for the New York Giants at No. 9 on draft night, which is less than two weeks away. We have by now debated probably ad nauseum why your favorite option at nine is the right option whether it be an offensive linemen (Peat, Collins, Scherff, Flowers), a defensive edge rusher (Beasley/Ray/Gregory), Shelton, or a WR (Cooper/White/Parker). But the draft doesn't always work that way, the Giants have been very difficult to pinpoint the last few years. No one saw (I think even the Giants) Prince Amukamara being available to them, Justin Pugh being the pick, or Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants will take the player they like whether or not you, me, or anyone else likes it.

Today we'll explore a much under-explored option and a player that could really take the Giants to another level, but just in a different way.

Todd Gurley is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, He stands at 6-foot-1, 222 pounds with 10-inch hands and is never caught from behind. Gurley is such a good athlete he could be an Olympic hurdler if he devoted himself to it full time. He competed with the USA world team in Europe and has the seventh-fastest time in Georgia Bulldogs history. He is, big, strong, fast, powerful, and elusive.

Gurley draws comparisons to terrific NFL running backs like Steven Jackson (a very apt comparison in my humble opinion), Marshawn Lynch, and Eddie George (be sure to read this terrific breakdown by my favorite draft analyst Matt Waldman. Gurley was suspended at one point and had a couple of injuries which are negatives in a sense, but they also kept him more fresh than dominating running backs of his ilk usually are entering the NFL. He has plenty of tread on his tires.

Respected analyst Greg Cosell said about Gurley:

I think you can make the argument that Gurley is the best prospect, at any position, in the draft. That doesn’t mean he’ll be drafted first, of course. But I think he’s a great prospect. There are no negatives about Todd Gurley on the field.

Gurley also has a reputation as a plus pass blocker, and pass catcher on the field. He might not only be the best guy with the ball in his hands in the draft, he is also the best as a third-down back.

Gurley had the big knee injury, but recently NFL media analysts said Gurley is more likely to go in the top 10 of the first round than he is to go in the bottom 10 of the first round (but most likely will go between pick 10 and pick 22).

Todd Gurley the player is every bit worthy of the No. 9 pick in the NFL Draft, but he does come with some questions. The first question is will he play this year, or will he have to sit an entire year before he can get on the field? That question seems to have been answered by the positive results of his medical re-check, which was held Saturday:

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Gurley's knee checked out fine and there's optimism that he'll be good to go in time for training camp.

The next question is iwhether or not n today's running back devalued NFL a running back is worth a first-round pick in the NFL Draft . My answer to that question is an emphatic YES!.

Now, Trent Richardson might have ruined it for running backs in the draft, but getting a dynamic running back is still important in the NFL. The theory that it is "easier" to find a running back in the later rounds of the NFL drafts is one of the biggest misconceptions there is out there.

This is a positional value chart by Zach Whitman of sigma 3 athlete, which basically shows the return on investment for running backs in the NFL Draft. As you can see based on the chart for offensive players running backs and tight ends actually present the best return value  in the first round, especially in the first 16 picks. Offensive line interestingly enough is actually the easier position to find the later you get into the draft, not running back (from a return on investment measure).  Whitman postulates that tight ends can have such a good return value because there are so few tight ends who meet the mold of a high first round pick that when teams find worthy ones they grab them and they succeed. I also think that is true of running backs now.

Running backs who can provide 8-12 touches a game and be used in sub-packages ARE a dime a dozen. You can find those guys anywhere. Running backs who are special -- who don't come around that often -- should still be first-round picks.

Is Gurley right for the Giants?

Now to the Giants specifically taking Todd Gurley in the draft there are good reasons for this as well from a positional needs standpoint. The Giants running game was poor last year and the blame for that rests squarely on the offensive line, at least according to most analysts and fans, but that is misleading. The running game was poor because the running backs on the team are, at best, average players.

Now, I really like Rashad Jennings and what he brings to the team from a leadership standpoint. Everything I read about Jennings makes me root very hard for him. With that being said, Jennings is a career journeyman who  is 30 years old and has never had a 1,000-yard season. Last year he averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Andre Williams is a fourth-round running back who averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season and is a guy who can't catch a football. Last year Leveon Bell had a PFF elusive rating of 55.1, while Williams and Jennings had an elusive rating combined score of 59.7, which is not very good individually.

They also combined for 289 yards on rushes that went more than 15 yards. If their numbers were combined that would put them for 12th best in the league, which is not particularly good. The Giants could not create big plays in the run game, and when there were opportunities, even though those might have been limited, Jennings and Williams did not possess the ability to capitalize on them.

Football Outsiders paints an even worse picture for Williams. His DYAR (Defensive yards adjusted above replacement) was -24 yards. He was 24 yards worse than the average NFL player would get in the same situations!  Jennings was a bit better as he rushed for a DYAR of 112, which was 13th-best in the league. But he still is a 30-year-old running back and is not a long-term solution.

The point is, if you were drawing up a positional needs chart for a team in the league and were only prehom averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year) you would have to assume that running back was a priority need for that team. I think because Jennings and Williams are such likeable guys they get a pass from fans. And I understand these are intelligent, well-spoken, charitable guys who are natural born leaders. But they didn't produce as well as they should have last year. The argument is made that the Giants offensive line is terrible, but again that is not entirely true. No matter what metric you use -- Pro Football Focus scores, Cold Hard Football Facts Hog Index, Football Outsiders DVOA, or even the eye test -- the Giants last year had what amounts to an average offensive line in the NFL. There are a handful of teams whose lines were much, much worse, and there were a handful of teams who put the Giants offensive line to shame. For the most part, though, their offensive line is about what you would expect from most NFL teams. And that's tough to swallow.

Williams and Jennings seem like great guys, but neither are special. And neither are even  above average. I realize that Williams started to come on some at the end of last year so there is hope, and if the Giants line improves things might look better since neither guy is particularly elusive and they need some spaced created for them. I also realize that I left Shane Vereen out so far, but he figures to be a third-down back more for the passing game. But the Giants have an under-rated need at running back for a better player. There is perhaps no player better than Todd Gurley in this entire draft.

In the top 10 you're looking for immediate starter, Pro Bowl potential, Gurley is that (minus the injury), but he has All-Pro potential. I think the Giants like their running backs more so than I do and I think they will look at a different position, but when the No. 9 pick comes up for the Giants the two best players on the board who are likely to be there are Randy Gregory and Todd Gurley and one of them could end up donning Giants blue. If not, pray they don't wind up in the NFC East.

Other dark-horse candidates