Todd Gurley trendsetting again, this time as an MVP candidate

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- It's an uphill battle, but one Todd Gurley has been fighting all along.

When Gurley was drafted 10th overall in 2015, he became the first running back taken in the first round in three years.

And now he's trying to do something even more rare.

As he attempts to lead the unbeaten Los Angeles Rams to their first Super Bowl appearance in 17 seasons, Gurley is on pace to place himself atop the league as its Most Valuable Player, something that has been done just once in the past 11 seasons by a non-quarterback.

"I'm not worried about that," Gurley said, shortly after he unselfishly stopped short of the goal line in the final minute against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday to ensure that the Rams would clinch their eighth consecutive victory. "Obviously, you know, they like to give it to quarterbacks, but we're just going to keep doing our thing and keep getting these wins, and everything else is going to take care of itself."

Gurley won't take credit for his individual performances. But the fourth-year pro is proud to be a trendsetter.

It started in the 2015 draft when he was taken in the first round. Then, after gaining 2,093 yards from scrimmage and scoring 19 touchdowns on the way to the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year award last season, he reset the market for running back contracts. Gurley signed the largest extension in NFL history at his position this offseason, a four-year deal worth $60 million, with $45 million guaranteed.

And this season, he's putting together a compelling case to push quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes aside and earn MVP.

"He can do everything," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "He's a complete back."

Gurley dominates in the run game, creates havoc when he catches a pass and is immovable when he sets a block.

"He's in my opinion the best back in the league," said Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who also has worked himself into the MVP conversation. "I'm very lucky to have him."

Over the past five seasons, the MVPs have all been quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.

You have to go back to 2012 to find the last running back to win the award, when Adrian Peterson did it with the Minnesota Vikings.

Peterson's numbers were eye-popping, and through eight games, Gurley's numbers compare to or surpass them. Gurley has 1,151 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns; Peterson through eight games had 914 yards and four touchdowns.

But it's going to come down to how Gurley -- and the Rams -- finish. Peterson went on a tear through the second half of the schedule. He rushed for 1,322 yards -- the most in the final eight games of the season since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Peterson finished the season with 13 touchdowns.

Gurley has scored a touchdown in 11 consecutive games, which ties a Rams franchise record set by Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, spanning the 1950 and '51 seasons.

And had Gurley not stopped short of the goal line Sunday, he would be on pace to set the single-season touchdown record, which is 31, set by former San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. Tomlinson won the MVP award that year.

"The thing that I say over and over is: As special of a talent as he is, he's an incredibly smart player," McVay said of Gurley. "He's got a great feel for the game, just by the way he plays."

But when Gurley is asked about his standout performances, which include a career-high 208 rushing yards against the Denver Broncos, he is quick to deflect credit to his teammates.

"There's no better feeling than being able to be on a team, see your teammates balling and having that success, you're having that success and everybody just sharing it together," Gurley said. "That's why Coach says football is the ultimate team sport."

"He's just unselfish," Goff said. "For as good as a player as he is, he's just unselfish."

Even as opponents key in on Gurley, they've been unable to slow him -- shown by the Rams' top-ranked rushing offense.

And Gurley's numbers are mostly trending up from 2017.

Last season, he finished with 13 rushing touchdowns. Through eight games, he already has 11.

He has been productive in third-down situations, too. Last season, he rushed 28 times on third down and got a first down 37 percent of the time. This season, he has already had 22 third-down carries and has converted 50 percent of them. In the passing game, Gurley has caught 13 passes for 155 yards on third down, up from last season, when he caught six passes for 128 yards through eight games.

"There's really not anything that Todd can't do in terms of what you ask him," McVay said.

That includes winning MVP.