How To Handle Todd Gurley In Fantasy Football
The biggest mystery in fantasy football in 2019 is Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams. He was the undisputed top fantasy football running back in 2018 and lead the league in touchdowns in 2017 and 2018. Gurley has 343 and 315 touches the last two seasons but towards the tail end of last year, he started ceding work to street free agent C.J Anderson. Anderson had only two fewer touches than Gurley in the Super Bowl and by far outran Gurley in the Divisional and Conference Championship playoff games. Anderson is no longer on the team but John Kelly and Malcolm Brown remain while the team traded up to take #DraftTwitter favorite Darrell Henderson with the 81st overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Gurley’s ADP has begun to fall in DRAFT Best Ball Leagues but not so much that he has become a no brainer.
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Most of the concerns surrounding Gurley at this point relate to the condition in his knee. It was at first reported that Gurley has an arthritic condition in his knee. It is now being heard from Ian Rapoport that “The days of Todd Gurley just being the straight-up, every-down bell cow are probably over, just based on his knee, his age, the position, the number of carries he’s had. It’s probably not going to be like that, which by the way is maybe why the Rams drafted a running back in the third round, someone they really like a lot. This is a team that is clearly ready to spread the ball around.” Jay Glazer has also reported that the Los Angeles Rams have a growing concern about Todd Gurley’s knee and the large contract that the running back is signed to. Glazer’s reporting seemed to indicate that there was a swelling issue in Gurley’s knee towards the tail end of last season which explains why C.J Anderson played so much during the playoffs.
Let’s make no mistake about this: running back fantasy points are derived from usage. If Todd Gurley goes from being a 330-touch per year running back to a 150-touch per year running back, his fantasy value is no different from any other eighth or ninth round running back selection. Gurley is not some transcendent player who can take nine touches per game and turn that into RB1 numbers (because no player can do that). The usage at the end of last season combined with the offseason reporting on Gurley has already lead us to a place to be hesitant. Generally, injury is the worst thing that can happen to a fantasy football players value. If Gurley’s knee heals up with rest, if he gets some sort of barely-legal surgery to fix the issues in his knee a la Kobe Bryant, then the conversation changes on that front. As of right now, there is no way to treat Gurley other than as damaged goods. The list of running backs to overcome a serious knee injury and return to form is short. You can always point to outliers (like Frank Gore) because you remember those players more than Marcus Lattimore or Eric Dickerson (who fell off entirely after his knee injury).
Further, the Rams have been extremely aggressive in retaining and acquiring replacements for Gurley. Sean McVay knows that having a solid pass-catching running back is important to his offense even if #RunningBacksDon’tMatter. John Kelly is still on his rookie deal but they actually chose to re-sign Malcolm Brown to a 2 year, $3,300,000 contract with the Rams, including a $100,000 signing bonus, $2,100,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $1,650,000. Even before drafting Henderson, they had two running backs on the roster that the organization felt at least decent about after letting C.J Anderson walk.
Trading up to draft Darrell Henderson from Memphis is the biggest signal that taking Todd Gurley in the first two rounds of a 12-team PPR league might be more of a gamble than it is worth. Since 2009, there have been 23 total running backs drafted in the third round. Of them, only eight started less than 10 games and half of those four only fell out of favor due to injury. On the other hand, Alvin Kamara, DeMarco Murray, David Johnson, Shonn Greene, Kareem Hunt, Stevan Ridley, Terrence West, Tevin Coleman, Ronnie Hillman, Kenyan Drake, Royce Freeman, and Duke Johnson all found significant playing time as rookies. What this comp list tells us is that teams generally have a plan for running backs that are drafted in the first three rounds and that we should not dismiss Darrell Henderson’s role even if Todd Gurley was completely healthy.
The evidence for upside for Gurley is clear but thin: he plays on one of the best offenses in football and when used like a bell-cow running back, he was an RB1 for fantasy. When doing projections, however, it is difficult to give Gurley even a 55% market share of the teams’ backfield touches given all of these concerns. It is has been widely reported that he is injured, the Rams matched an offer sheet on Malcolm Brown, and they traded up for Darrell Henderson in an area of the draft where running backs are normally successful. In order to think that Gurley is a first (or even second) round fantasy football draft pick at this point, you would have to project Gurley to return to something close to a 20-touch per game player with a monopoly at the goal line. So much of Gurley’s value was derived from touchdowns that if he were to take a step back from that role and even retain his passing down work, he still might not be a value in the second round.
Overall, I would praise the aggressiveness of chasing the upside in Todd Gurley if the downside wasn’t so poor. There are so many warning flags with Gurley that selecting him is really more based on valuing the past than it is projecting towards the future. In the third round, when your choices are backend wide receivers or running backs like Leonard Fournette, selecting Gurley becomes more palatable but that is the earliest I would consider taking him.