Can Darrell Henderson replace Todd Gurley as Rams' featured back?

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Why the Rams released Todd Gurley (1:18)

Bill Plaschke breaks down the Rams' decision to release Todd Gurley and what it means for the team's future. (1:18)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Todd Gurley era is over for the Los Angeles Rams.

Now it's time to see what running back Darrell Henderson can do as the Rams attempt to move on from Gurley, the one-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and rebound from last season's disappointing 9-7 finish.

The Rams selected Henderson in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft. At the time, it was a curious pick for a team that had only nine months earlier made Gurley the highest-paid running back in NFL history with a four-year, $60 million extension.

But after the Rams picked Henderson with the 70th overall selection, Sean McVay called him the "change-of-pace" back that he had been in search of since taking over as coach.

"I loved him coming out last year," McVay said in February at the NFL scouting combine. At Memphis, Henderson rushed for 3,545 yards and 36 touchdowns in three seasons and caught 63 passes for 758 yards and eight touchdowns.

Next season, Henderson, who turns 23 in August, will have a chance to jump from a seldom-used back to a feature role. Malcolm Brown, who spent five seasons as Gurley's backup, also is expected to take on an increased load, and the Rams could use one of their six picks in the draft this month to add more running back depth.

In January, the Rams hired offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, who is expected to help reinvigorate a run game that last season struggled to get moving. The Rams also invested in the offensive line this offseason by re-signing veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard/center Austin Blythe.

Said Whitworth of Henderson: "He's quick. When he puts his foot in the ground and goes, you can see it. There's a couple games there throughout the season, he got some opportunities when he touched the football, he looked like lightning in a bottle."

The Rams spent the past five seasons featuring Gurley. When McVay arrived in 2017, he designed his offense around the star back, and even last season, when it became apparent that Gurley's role was shifting, he continued to play a critical role in deciding wins versus losses. Since the Rams selected Gurley from Georgia with the 10th overall pick in 2015, he has 1,483 touches, 125 more than any other NFL player during that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

But now, with Gurley gone as part of a salary-cap dump and after the two sides couldn't find common ground in dealing with a nagging knee, the Rams will see if Henderson, who is scheduled to earn $687,000, can take over.

Last season, Henderson demonstrated flashes of promise but was unable to establish a consistent rhythm playing only 8% of the team's offensive snaps (93).

Rams general manager Les Snead said Henderson's rookie campaign didn't pan out according to plan.

"What I do know coming into it, would've liked to have been able to implement Darrell Henderson a little bit more," Snead said after the season in December. "And also implement him in the passing game."

Henderson rushed for 147 yards on 39 carries and caught four passes for 37 yards. He averaged 3.77 yards per carry.

"He's got an even-keeled demeanor," McVay said. "He's a guy that has some burst. He's got a thick lower half, too. He can end up going through people, he can go around them -- he's got great instincts."

In Week 6, when Gurley was sidelined because of a thigh bruise, Henderson capitalized on the opportunity to play an increased role, but he also committed a rookie mistake. He rushed for 39 yards on six carries, including 22-yard and a 14-yard runs, but on the first play of the second half, Henderson fumbled a pitch from quarterback Jared Goff, and the San Francisco 49ers recovered on their way to a 20-7 win.

In Week 16, Henderson suffered an ankle injury in the first half of a loss to the 49ers that effectively ended the Rams' playoff hopes -- and Henderson's season. He underwent surgery to repair a high ankle sprain and was placed on injured reserve.

Despite an uneven rookie season from Henderson, McVay expressed confidence in the running back's ability moving forward.

"He did make some good progress," McVay said. "He's got a bright future and we're looking forward to big things from him."

The Rams next season also could turn more to Brown, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and is scheduled to earn $1 million next season.

In 2019, Brown produced a career-high 255 rushing yards and five touchdowns, despite being sidelined for two games because of an ankle injury.

In five seasons, Brown has rushed for 769 yards and six touchdowns on 197 carries.

But for now, the Rams' future and McVay's offense appear to be reliant on the development of Henderson.

"Really looking forward to seeing the steps that he takes," McVay said.