2020 Los Angeles Rams Positional Breakdown: Running Backs

The Rams’ three-headed monster at RB returns.

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(Author’s note: If you haven’t already I recommend checking out the other articles within the positional breakdown series. Also, I recently wrote a deep dive regarding Todd Gurley in a potential 2020 resurgent season, so make sure to check that out as well)

When it came to the running game during the 2019 season, it could often be described as “underwhelming” and “underperforming” compared to recent years. However, we at Downtown Rams can make the case as to why it’s not all on the running backs for the less than usual production that we’ve come to know under Sean McVay’s watch.

The inconsistency of the offensive line, mostly due to injuries and inexperience, definitely proved to be a hindrance (especially after enjoying such OL continuity in 2017-2018, their playoff seasons). Furthermore, Sean McVay and the offensive staff started to gameplan to be more pass-heavy rather than use the run game to help set up the passing game during the season. 

In 2020, the Rams will look to get back to the basics and rebuild from the ground up; and that starts with an efficient and productive running game. The Rams will have a new OC and a new RB coach, and that shake up could lead to a fresh start. Let’s look at the players currently slated to be on the roster.

Todd Gurley II

2020: $17.25M

2021: $13.2M

Potential Out in 2022 with dead cap of $4.2M

2022: $14.2M

2023: $12.499M

2024: UFA 

If you read our Todd Gurley piece on how he will have a resurgent 2020 season, it outlined how 2019 wasn’t completely Gurley’s fault for having a down year. The offensive line, after being so dominant in 2017-2018, had a noticeable regression in which injuries, shuffling and a lack of experience hindered the run game; by season’s end, only LT Andrew Whitworth had played all 16 games.

The lack of sustained holes at the line of scrimmage, especially off right tackle, didn’t give Gurley (or the other running backs for that matter) a chance to consistently hit positive gains. Even on a down year, Gurley still managed 12 rushing touchdowns, granted all within the red zone but still a high mark for a supposedly “hobbled” player. The only indication that he was less than 100% was his longest run of the year was only 25 yards and his yards per reception dropped 3 full yards vs his 2018 season (9.8 to 6.7).

Thus far, there’s been no indication from the Rams front office to suggest that they will trade Todd Gurley. Though some journalists, especially the LA Times, and many fans have called for the Rams to trade Gurley to get out from his contract. The main problem with that outcome is the dead cap the Rams will take on if they move on from Gurley before 2022, where the dead cap will only be at $4.2M.

Gurley was not the main issue for the run game going downhill; like I stated before, it was a combination of the offensive line consistency and, later on in the season, a pass-heavy gameplan in order to move the team down the field (at the expense of attempting to fix running game).

With a re-invigorated staff and increased experience on the OL, Todd Gurley will have a bounce back 2020 season, so fans need to pump the brakes on trade talks and see what the upcoming season has in store.

Malcolm Brown

2020: $1.137M

2021: UFA 

The 2019 season for Malcolm Brown would be considered a middle of the road season for backup running back. While getting only 69 carries for 255 yards he did manage to get five touchdowns (note: the Rams had no problem scoring rush TD’s in the red zone). He accumulated two of the five back in week 1 against the Panthers and his fifth came in week 17 against the Cardinals. Brown will be going into his last year of his contract so that begs the question: will the Rams extend Brown or let him walk after 2021?

Brown was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Rams back in 2015, which gives him a leg up since he is well-versed in the system that McVay runs and understands what the Rams are trying to do. Furthermore, he has proven to be the type of north/south power back that can run it down teams throats from within the red zone and on third and short plays.

He is a back that spells Todd Gurley when he needs a rest on the occasional drive, and the offense (typically) doesn’t miss much of a beat. He also has improved his pass protection over the years, making him a more complete back. The best thing the Rams could do is to extend Brown past the 2020 season. 

Darrell Henderson

2020: $959K

2021: $1.51M

2022: $1.33M

2023: UFA

The 2019 season for Darrell Henderson would be normal for a rookie being drafted onto a team with Todd Gurley as their starter. In 13 games played, Henderson carried the ball 39 times for 147 yards but with no touchdowns. He was used on special teams a couple times for three kick returns with 58 yards gained in total. His best game was in week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he carried 11 times for 49 yards.

Henderson is in a prime spot to learn the game from considerably a Top 10 running back in the league in Todd Gurley, and one of the top RB2’s in the league in Malcolm Brown. Though he’s under contact until 2023, the Rams would be wise to increase his workload in 2020, as he was one of the top change of pace running backs coming into the 2019 draft (3rd round pick, 70th overall) and has true home run ability. The Rams’ longest rush from a RB in 2019 was only 25 yards, so it’s important that the Rams figure out a way to get a player of his speed involved.

Expect him to get plenty of time at kick returner in the preseason, as that could be his primary role on game days along with opportunities to kick the run game up a notch. There is a high ceiling for Henderson in 2020 and beyond, so make sure to keep an eye on this kid for the next few seasons as a rising running back within the Rams locker room.

Summary

If you’ve read the other positional breakdowns, usually I’ll give 2-3 possible free agent solutions that the Rams could bring onto the team to help for the 2020 season. Although, with the running backs, I don’t see a need to get a free agent running back as they have a formidable top 3.

Todd Gurley is primed for a resurgent 2020 season, with McVay and O’Connell making sure to utilize him more to bring him back to his 2018 self. Furthermore, Gurley and Brown will be used as a dynamic tandem to help the run game get back to where it once was and help setup the passing game in the process. Also, look for Henderson to get more reps either on the offense or on special teams since McVay should use his speed to his advantage.

The running backs will have a better 2020 season and fans should be ready to see the old Todd Gurley running all over teams throughout the season, with a splash of Brown and Henderson to mix it up. 

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Bailey
8 months ago

Great piece Zach. Agree with everything you said in this article. I was saying all year that the lack of running game was not all TG’s fault. I may be biased as he is my favourite player, but he is still the same guy. If at all, maybe 90% himself but I still think with a better OL and reinvigorated staff as you mentioned, hopefully will be back to the same guy from 2017-mid way through 2019. I am hoping to pick him up in a heap of fantasy drafts in the 2nd, maybe even 3rd round and have a… Read more »

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