If hurdling football players in full pads were an Olympic sporting event, Todd Gurley might be going for gold in Pyeongchang right now. The Los Angeles Rams‘ star running back has turned heads numerous times for his ability to leap professional athletes in a single bound, especially while on his way to being named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.
It doesn’t surprise those who know him best.
Gurley was a star hurdler at Tarboro High School in North Carolina. He was so good, so natural, that his track coach, Andrew Harding, used to think he could someday medal in the Olympics. Instead, Gurley utilized those talents on the football field. He doesn’t ever plan to hurdle opponents. “It just happens,” Gurley said. It’s instinctive — and yes, it’s also dangerous.
Asked about his hurdling while on Fox Sports 1’s “Undisputed” show last month, Gurley smiled and said: “I don’t know why I do it, man. … One day, it’s probably going to end bad. But until then, I’m going to keep jumping. For the most part, it’s more DBs. Most DBs are not going to hit a running back high, especially if they’re going a hundred miles per hour fast at them. It’s kind of just a reaction, and for the most part, it’s been working.”
Has it ever.
Below, we ranked five of Gurley’s hurdles from the 2017 season and assigned them a judge’s score. (Clips of the plays are linked to the “outcome” section.)
Hurdle No. 5
Situation: Second-and-11, ball at the Rams’ 19-yard line with 9 minutes, 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Week 14, leading 35-34.
Outcome: Jared Goff spins out of a sack and dumps it off to Gurley as he streaks across the field. Gurley then leaps over Jenkins as he crouches to make the tackle and picks up 5 or so extra yards for a total gain of 9. Two plays later, however, Goff coughs up a fumble for the key turnover in an eventual loss.
Score: 7.6. Gurley cleared Jenkins, but he didn’t have to jump as high to do so. He also changed his landing foot midair, which caused him to slip when he hit the turf. Gurley gets extra points for having to reach across his body to make the catch moments before hurdling a defender, but this was his least-impressive leap of the season — and that’s saying something.
Hurdle No. 4
Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent’s 47-yard line with 9:23 left in the third quarter of Week 4, trailing 24-16.
Outcome: Gurley darts through a hole to his left, picks up a first down, then is confronted by Heath, who barely manages to bring Gurley down on his leaping attempt. Gurley picks up about 3 extra yards with his jump and 17 total yards on the play, getting deep into Cowboys territory to eventually set up a field goal.
Score: 8.1. Gurley didn’t stick the landing on this one. Heath’s head got just enough of Gurley’s groin to interrupt what would’ve been a superb hurdle. Had he not, Gurley might have gained an extra 30 yards for a touchdown. He still would’ve had to outrun linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was creeping up from behind and ultimately helped secure the tackle. But Heath was acting as the last line of defense.
Hurdle No. 3
Situation: Second-and-10, ball at the Rams’ 32-yard line with 7:09 left in the second quarter of Week 2, trailing 13-7.
Outcome: Gurley could’ve been stopped at the line of scrimmage, but his leap instead turned this into an 8-yard catch and run. That play was negated, however, because of a holding call on another Redskins cornerback, Josh Norman, prompting an automatic first down that helped set up a field goal in an eventual loss.
Score: 8.9. Gurley cleanly cleared the defender, then stuck the landing so well that he was able to immediately whip around the corner to get past another defender in linebacker Mason Foster. That’s huge. But the degree of difficulty wasn’t as high because Fuller was coming low and at an angle.
Hurdle No. 2
Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent’s 23-yard line with 10:41 left in the second quarter of Week 16, leading 6-3.
Outcome: Gurley runs a drag, makes about a 3-yard catch, runs toward the left sideline, then hurdles Byard and picks up a first down on an eventual 16-yard gain. It extended an eventual 16-play drive that absorbed more than eight minutes. New kicker Sam Ficken couldn’t finish off the drive, missing a field goal. But the Rams won the game and thus clinched a division title.
Score: 9.2. There was a lot of traffic on this jump, but a closer look makes you really appreciate what Gurley did. Immediately after he regained his momentum after catching a throw that was behind him, he cleared Byard, then, as he was coming down, used his right leg to propel himself off the body of linebacker Wesley Woodyard to pick up even more yardage. All with very little room to work with.
Hurdle No. 1
Situation: First-and-10, ball at the opponent’s 18-yard line with 8:53 left in the third quarter of Week 2, trailing 20-10.
Human hurdle: Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
Outcome: Gurley turned what would’ve been a modest 8-yard gain into an 18-yard touchdown off a screen pass. After hurdling Breeland, he burst toward the end zone and stretched out his left arm just far enough to cross the plane before Deshazor Everett could push him out of bounds.
Score: 9.9. In the annals of football hurdling, this one should stand as the model. Breeland was barely even crouching, probably because he saw what Gurley did to his poor teammate in the prior quarter of this game. But Gurley still cleared him cleanly with a jump that must have taken him about six feet off the ground. That it led directly to a touchdown because of another impossibly athletic play takes it to another level.