Todd Gurley: 2020 and Beyond
by Matt Kelley
Death, taxes, and Todd Gurley is the league's best running back. This was pretty much everyone’s sentiment in 2017 and 2018...at least right until the Rams appearance in the Super Bowl. The Rams were concerned enough about Gurley’s health in the latter
portion of the regular 2018 season that they signed C.J. Anderson off the couch, and carried him into the playoffs (Anderson won some folks fantasy titles in this stretch).
Gurley stated that he was ‘healthy’ in his post game interview after only accounting for 10 carries and 35 yards in the biggest game of his career. Leading into the 2019 season, Gurley’s trainer said there was ‘an arthritic component’ to Gurley’s knee. The fantasy football community stood still, eyes wide, and by-in-large pressed the panic button. Oh dear. Those are certainly words you don’t want to hear for a guy whoseproduction depends on said knee. From here, let’s go into a deeper dive of just where we are with TGII and what that means for your fantasy squad.
Gurley’s 2019 season: Woof. Not the same Todd Gurley fantasy managers had depended on in years past. His average draft position was all over the place, depending on what you believed about his health and how the Rams conveyed he would be utilized in games. Since most fantasy leagues play their championship game in week 16, we’ll examine his season in that time frame.
Gurley only missed one game...that’s not bad. Gurley didn’t rush for 100 yards in a single game. Uh oh. That’s a feat he accomplished six times in both 2017 and 2018, respectively. Gurley did go over 90 yards rushing three times, but he also rushed for under 50 yards seven times. Gurley had double digit rushing attempts in five of those seven games that he was under the 50 yards rushing mark. So, what happened? Well, a number of things. First, the Rams offensive line was dreadful. Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams line at 31 of 32 teams, only better than the Miami Dolphins. While that doesn’t account for everything, it did force the Rams to change their game plan and often play from behind.
In theory, Gurley should have been very involved in passing game work. Through 16 weeks (14 appearances) Gurley saw 47 targets and 29 catches. Gurley collected 59 and 64 catches in the two seasons prior, respectively. Gurley still managed to find the endzone on 14 occasions, and that was largely what salvaged his games from a fantasy perspective. As mentioned, touchdowns are often the most difficult projection from year to year, though Gurley does seem to have a nose for the endzone.
The Knee: Let me express...I am the furthest possible thing from being a doctor. So here is the analysis from Dr. David Chao, who was the Chargers team doctor for 17 years.
Per Dr. Chao: “Gurley passed the team doctor exam but this does not mean he is over his chronic knee issue. The former Rams workhorse still has an arthritic left knee that will limit him going forward. Passing the physical does not mean the knee is normal, just that the Falcons accept the condition as is. Our thoughts on Gurley’s usage haven’t changed since our 2019 preseason report in which we postulated that Gurley is no longer a volume running back” (profootballdoc.com).
Before we continue, let me express that Dr. Chao is a must follow on the Twitter machine - @ProFootballDoc. If you’re ever wondering what to do in regards to a player’s injury, Dr. Chao’s injury analysis is second to none in my (very non-doctoral) opinion. So with that said, the health of Gurley’s knee is something you’ll have to bake into your risk tolerance when you draft him this season. The Rams usage of Gurley from a week to week perspective does seem to lend credence to the thought that Gurley’s knee may allow for more activity some weeks than others.
The Cut: The Rams cut ties with Gurley this offseason, despite giving him the contract that made him the league’s highest paid running back in 2018. The Rams ate $20 million in dead cap space to move on from him. That’s pretty staggering. If you’re looking for a tie breaker scenario in redraft, or certainly in dynasty formats as Gurely approaches his age 26 season, you should consider the investment in his situation. A team willing to move on from a player at that price says two things: First, Gurley wasn’t going to take a pay cut (why would he?). And second, the Rams didn’t believe his production would ever reflect their investment again.
Gurley’s New Team: Gurley signed a one year, $5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Anytime a player signs a one year deal, it’s usually because they’re either nearing the end of their career or they’re in a ‘prove it’ type of scenario. For Gurley, it’s assumed to be the latter given his knee and production from 2019. Pro Football Focus graded the Falcons’ offensive line at 24 out of 32 teams last season. Better than the Rams but certainly not without issues. As of this writing, Ito Smith and Brian Hill are the only backs in Atlanta that really pose any challenge to Gurley’s role as the RB1 in this backfield. Neither Smith nor Hill inspired much confidence last season. The Falcons only rushed for 85.1 yards a game last season - 30th in the NFL. The defense did improve over the second half of the season, however they gave up nearly 25 points per game. The Falcons played from behind a lot. So Gurley is now on a team that plays from behind often and has a bad offensive line... Sound familiar?
What To Do: We’ve all seen the Gurley hype video on Twitter, in which he appears to be leg pressing a million pounds. For a second, it does make you think the knee is okay, but then you remember the aforementioned injury and investment in his talents (both from the Rams and Falcons). In PPR leagues, Gurely is currently going as RB15. Sounds good. His ADP, however, is 27th overall, which is early third round in 12 team leagues. In redraft, you only need him for this season, so really it’s dependent on your risk tolerance. But if you do this, you’re also passing on guys like Leonard Fournette, Allen Robinson, and D.J. Moore. Obviously, it depends on your team build, but in a vacuum, I’d take all three of those players before Gurely.
In regards to dynasty format, I’d still draft Gurley but he’d need to go considerably later. I’m talking about the fifth round in single QB leagues. That’s just where my comfort level meets my personal risk tolerance. He’ll most likely land on a new team next season, and it’s hard to project what that will mean for his outlook until we know exactly where. If you’re established in a dynasty league and you’re in ‘win now’ mode, you may be able to trade for Gurley as that piece to get you to the Promised Land.
The hype for his 2019 season is growing and is higher than what it was prior to his signing with Atlanta. With no true competition in the backfield, the Falcons could just give Gurley all he can handle as they have no commitment to him beyond the 2020 season. The question being, what exactly can Gurley handle? My gut says, with all the information we have available, you can probably account for a missed game or two. There could be some weeks of frustration in Gurley’s usage within a game plan. Gurley was just north of 250 total touches last season, which is still a great number. I just wouldn’t expect him to return to near the 300 touch realm of seasons past. In an effort to see his production match or exceed his ADP, Gurley’s season depends on him seeing and uptick in receiving volume and maintaining his touchdown totals. I don’t like to bet against guys that have shown other worldly talents, but Gurley is in a new offense, and the health of his knee isn’t going to progress in a positive direction. If his body holds up, he has the opportunity to ‘prove it’ for 2020. Just know that if his touchdown numbers fall and his production remains at the level it was last season, Gurley could disappoint for fantasy.
You can follow me on Twitter @ThatMattKelley