Miami Dolphins

Running back Todd Gurley: Damaged goods or just plain good?

Georgia running back Todd Gurley (3) dives over the goal line for a touchdown past Florida linebacker Neiron Ball (11) and defensive back Cody Riggs (31) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley (3) dives over the goal line for a touchdown past Florida linebacker Neiron Ball (11) and defensive back Cody Riggs (31) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. AP

The Dolphins have not used a first-round pick on a running back in a decade.

Who can blame them?

They might be shell-shocked from a long history of awful luck.

Seven times in 49 years, the Dolphins have taken a running back in the first round. Only two — Hall of Famer Larry Csonka and Ronnie Brown — amounted to anything.

As for the rest?

John Avery lasted just one year in Miami. David Overstreet was killed in a car accident after his first season with the Dolphins. Sammie Smith served seven years in prison for cocaine distribution. Lorenzo Hampton rushed for more than 500 yards just once in his five NFL seasons.

And Jim Grabowski, the franchise’s first draft pick, never played a down for the Dolphins, then of the American Football League. He instead decided to sign with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, who also drafted him.

So tell Dolphins fans — and their running backs — that curses don’t exist.

Perhaps that’s why Todd Gurley is so appealing. Maybe he got all of his bad luck out of the way in college.

Gurley probably would be the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson had he not torn his left ACL midway through his junior year at Georgia.

Here’s the remarkable thing: Even with the injury, he still might be.

The Dolphins covet Gurley, multiple sources have told the Miami Herald, and would love for him to fall to them at No. 14 in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday. But some doubt he will even make it out of the top 10; ESPN draftnik Todd McShay projects him going sixth to the Jets.

“He’s a talent. He’s definitely a player that his ability stands out and shines,” said Eric Stokes, the Dolphins’ assistant general manager. “He’s an exciting guy to watch. We’ve enjoyed working through that process with him and seeing him. From there, we’ll see where things shake out.”

And here’s the best part. He’s as young as it gets. Gurley won’t even be able to legally buy beer when training camp opens. His 21st birthday is Aug. 3.

A native of Baltimore, Gurley went to high school near Raleigh, North Carolina, earning all-star honors as a senior. A four-star recruit, he picked Georgia over four in-state programs that offered him a scholarship.

While with the Bulldogs, he also ran track for Team USA, competing in hurdles in 2011.

But football was his meal ticket. He was electric with the ball in his hands. He ran for nearly 1,400 yards as a freshman, averaged a shade under 100 yards a game as a sophomore and was poised for a record-breaking third season in Athens.

But nothing went as planned. The NCAA suspended Gurley for four games after it determined he received hundreds of impermissible dollars to sign memorabilia.

In his first game back — catastrophe. Late in the Bulldogs’ Nov. 15 win over Auburn, Gurley cut left and then lunged forward for a first down. As he planted his foot, his left knee popped — he ruptured his ACL.

His season was over. His draft prospects? Dimmed.

And yet, he decided to forgo his senior year and went pro. Famed orthopedist James Andrews performed the reconstructive surgery and is adamant that Gurley is ahead of schedule.

Gurley might even be ready for the start of the season, although the Dolphins wouldn’t necessarily need him that soon. They still have Lamar Miller, who ran for almost 1,100 yards a season ago.

The typical recovery time for such an injury is nine months to a year.

And the odds of tearing a reconstructed ACL are just 2 percent, said orthopedic surgeon Harlan Selesnick, the Miami Heat’s team physician.

But just as important is the extent of damage to the surrounding cartilage. Selesnick wouldn’t speculate on the nature of Gurley’s injury, but rather spoke about ACL tears in general. And in his history, players who rush back too quickly are more likely to suffer setbacks.

“If the overall condition of his knee is good and his ligament is good, that speaks well for his prognosis in the league,” Selesnick said. “Teams would be more likely to take a chance on a player like that than someone else who hasn’t ever recovered as well.”

Added Selesnick: “The success rate in terms of stability is really quite good. You don’t see a lot of guys having a repeat ACL surgery. … You can usually feel comfortable taking one of those players.”

And besides, the Dolphins’ luck at the position couldn’t possibly get worse.

Possible Dolphins targets

NAME

COLLEGE

HT/WT

ROUND

Todd Gurley

Georgia

6-1/222

1

Melvin Gordon

Wisconsin

6-1/215

1

Jay Ajayi

Boise State

6-0/221

2

Ameer Abdullah

Nebraska

5-9/205

2-3

Duke Johnson

Miami

5-9/207

2-3

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