If Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch decides to call it a career before playing out the final year of his contract, ESPN Insider Todd McShay can see the Seahawks finding a "Beast Mode" replacement in the first round of May's NFL Draft.
McShay's Mock Draft 3.0, his first post-NFL Scouting Combine take that was released early Thursday, has the Seahawks selecting Georgia running back Todd Gurley with their pick (No. 31 overall) in round one. Gurley is the same player McShay targeted for Seattle in the first and second editions of his 2015 mock, but also a player he'd be quick to rethink should Lynch choose to continue playing in the Pacific Northwest.
"If the Seahawks sign Marshawn Lynch to a long-term contract, then you can cross this pick off the list," McShay writes. "But I have a hard time believing that's going to happen, and Gurley would make a lot of sense as a long-term replacement for Lynch in Seattle. The best NFL comp I can come up with for Gurley is Lynch, and he's a premier talent in this class with his combination of speed and power. Durability is a question mark with him, as he is currently recovering from a torn ACL."
In 2014, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Gurley posted 911 yards on 123 touches, an average of 7.9 yards per carry as the team's lead back. As McShay notes, Gurley's health may cloud his NFL future. An ACL tear ended his final season with the Bulldogs early and kept him from participating in the on-field portion of the NFL Combine.
"You want to be out there with the guys," Gurley said at Lucas Oil Stadium one week ago. "You're happy for the guys that are out there competing, but at the end of the day you want to see yourself competing with those guys because that's what the combine is all about - going out there, doing the workouts, and showing the coaches what you can do."
Teams taking a chance on an injured running back has happened before, but with mixed results.
The Buffalo Bills made Willis McGahee the 23rd overall pick in 2003 after he suffered a serious knee injury in the final game of his college career. After sitting out his initial season in the League to rehab, McGahee had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Bills before going on to a standout career with the Baltimore Ravens.
On the other end of the spectrum is Marcus Lattimore, who the San Francisco 49ers selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Lattimore, who fell victim to two serious knee injuries in college, never played a down in the NFL. He retired from football this past November.
"I just know the way I work, what type of back I am, and what type of player I've become over the past couple years," said Gurley. "And I'm going to work as hard as possible to be that guy when I come back."
At the combine last week, head coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks have made "big offers" to Lynch's representatives on a new contract for the 2015 season and Executive VP/General Manager John Schneider said Lynch has done nothing to indicate he'll walk away from football. Carroll even went as far as to say the only way he envisions Lynch not suiting up in Seahawks blue and green next year is if he doesn't want to play.
But Schneider did admit he wouldn't be shocked to see Lynch retire, citing a history of great running backs that have done so when it appeared they had plenty of production left. Schneider said models are in place should that scenario occur, and if it does, McShay would tab Gurley as part of Seattle's plans.
"There's enough teams in the back-half of the first round that could be looking for running backs," McShay said during a conference call with reporters on Monday. "Based off of the tape before the injury I thought Gurley was the best back in the class. He's just an absolute freight train as a runner. One cut and go, lowers his shoulder.
"He's like Marshawn Lynch - he just breaks through so many one-on-one tackles."
McShay said Gurley separates himself from other running backs his size in two distinct areas.
"One is the top-end speed," said McShay. "It's an elite - we overuse that word, but it is an elite combination of size and speed. Then the second part is his pass-catching ability, which nobody seems to talk about. But I was blown away by how comfortable and how natural he is catching the football, adjusting to the ball, transitioning from catching the ball and getting up the field quickly.
"If you give him some daylight it's over. It's light out."