We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The Rams drafted Todd Gurley with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The talented Georgia RB was virtually unstoppable when healthy in college, gaining more than 100 total yards in 23-of-30 games and accounting for 44 total scores. He checked all the boxes of a true three-down back: size (6-foot-1 and 227-pounds), speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash) and receiving ability (65-615-6 collegiate receiving line).
Gurley was fully expected to ball out immediately in the NFL ... and he did just that. Knee injuries have unfortunately hampered his career, although the 25-year-old back has still managed to play in 73-of-80 games since entering the league.
Unfortunately, the 2019 version of Gurley (4.2 yards per touch) was the closest thing we've seen to the 2016 version (3.8). The latter performance was largely chalked up to Jeff Fisher, while the former has produced more of a #washed outlook for the two-time first-team All-Pro.
The Rams decided to part ways with Gurley this offseason. He's been scooped up by the Falcons and is expected to work as their lead back. What follows is a breakdown on what we should expect from Gurley with the Falcons in 2020.
Few backs have been as productive as Gurley since 2015
Gurley has racked up at least 250 touches in each of the past five seasons. He joins Frank Gore (7), LeSean McCoy (7), Matt Forte (6), Le'Veon Bell (5) and Adrian Peterson (5) as the only RBs with this many high-usage seasons since 2010.
This workload, combined with Gurley's general excellence with the ball in his hands, has made him a fantasy darling for the better part of the last half decade:
- 2015: PPR RB8
- 2016: RB15
- 2017: RB1
- 2018: RB3
- 2019: RB14
Note that Gurley played 13, 16, 15, 14 and 15 games during the 2015-2019 seasons, respectively.
We have more than enough evidence that Gurley is capable of handling a true three-down workload, but unfortunately we have multiple seasons worth of proof that this usage won't always lead to efficient yardage. Gurley was truly one of the league's single-best RBs on a per-touch basis as a rookie and during his first two seasons with coach Sean McVay. He was also one of the single-worst RBs in 2016 and 2019.
- 2015: 5.2 yards per touch (No. 17 among all RBs with at least 100 touches)
- 2016: 3.8 (No. 53)
- 2017: 6.1 (No. 4)
- 2018: 5.8 (No. 10)
- 2019: 4.2 (No. 45)
The rookie-year version of Gurley in particular was fun to watch. Nearly every game consisted of tackle-breaking goodness, explosive runs, and plenty of hurdles.
The 2015 Rams didn't exactly boast play-calling excellence from Jeff Fisher and company, but Gurley made the most of his opportunities anyway. The 2017-2018 Rams were a bit more unique in that McVay enabled Gurley to new heights as a receiver, and the team's offensive line was absolutely spectacular. Overall, Gurley joined Kareem Hunt as the only RBs to average at least eight yards per target among 55 backs with at least 50 targets during the 2017-2018 seasons. The 2018 Rams offensive line averaged 5.49 adjusted line yards per rush – the single-highest mark from Football Outsiders since they began tracking the metric in 1996. The 2017 Rams o-line (4.7) wasn't quite as dominant, but still ranked third in the league.
Then 2019 happened. Failure to replace multiple starters in the interior of the offensive line resulted in the Rams limping to a No. 19 overall finish in adjusted line yards per rush. Gurley's 49 targets were his fewest since his rookie season, and his average of 4.2 yards per target was a full yard worse than Leonard Fournette (5.2).
14 total touchdowns saved Gurley's 2019 fantasy season from being a disaster. The good news is he might just find himself in a better overall situation in Atlanta.
Gurley *should* find himself in a better offense in 2020
Neither the 2020 Rams nor Falcons are expected to exactly feature a juggernaut offense, but if we had to pick one it might very well be the latter team.
Jared Goff vs. Matt Ryan was perhaps a competition during the 2017-2018 seasons. In 2019 Ryan had his worst season since the pre-MVP 2016 days ... yet he was still a good amount better than Goff in nearly every metric other than sacks taken. Ryan at his *worst* was still a pretty consensus top-16 QB in the league; Goff single-handily tanked the offense at times and finished outside the top-20 QBs in most efficiency statistics.
Both the Rams and Falcons return all five starters from their porous 2019 offensive lines. At least the Falcons on paper are trying to be decent, as they're spending the ninth-most 2020 dollars on the offensive line. Meanwhile, only the Ravens have fewer salary devoted to the big uglies up front. Falcons C Matt Hennessy (3.78) was the only top-three round pick either team added in the draft. The Rams' offensive line wasn't quite as bad as the Falcons in 2019, but neither was great, and the Falcons seem to have a more realistic chance at improving ahead of next season.
Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are great players, but it's safe to say we don't need to spend too much time discussing why defenses might pay a bit more attention to the likes of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the outside.
Falcons OC Dirk Koetter isn't quite in Sean McVay's league when it comes to play-calling goodness. Still, the 61-year-old coach also isn't exactly a scrub. Koetter has orchestrated above-average scoring offenses four-of-eight seasons running the Falcons and Buccaneers offenses since 2012.
Ultimately, the Falcons (No. 15 in yards per play, No. 13 in scoring in 2019) seem to have at least a fair chance to again produce an offense similar to the Rams (No. 12, No. 11).
Add it all up and ...
There are cheaper RBs with less question marks
The problem with investing in Gurley is that he's being priced as one of the most-expensive "looked washed in 2019 but still has a large workload" players.
There are roughly eight RBs that fantasy managers have a right to be disgruntled with from their 2019 performance and also have real reason to question whether or not they're capable of turning their starting volume into efficient production:
- Leonard Fournette (Best-Ball RB14 ADP)
- Gurley (RB16)
- Melvin Gordon (RB17)
- Le'Veon Bell (RB19)
- Chris Carson (RB21)
- David Johnson (RB22)
- James Conner (RB23)
- David Montgomery (RB28)
Personally I have each of Gordon, Carson and Johnson ranked ahead of Gurley, and the remaining players with the exception of Fournette are arguably better values at their depressed ADP.
The biggest factor holding me back from bidding on Gurley ahead of next season is the reality that we have no clue what type of role he's going to have. OC Dirk Koetter made headlines by stating the Falcons really have no idea about Gurley's health situation at the moment. Additionally, this has been a backfield that has historically kept multiple backs involved. Sure, both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were given featured roles when the other was injured, but otherwise we've consistently seen multiple RBs involved in this offense.
Gurley will certainly be the lead back. Just don't underestimate the potential for Ito Smith or Brian Hill to also be involved. Smith was the Falcons' most-efficient RB in both the run and pass game in 2019, ultimately playing at least 25% of the offense's snaps in all five of his non-injury shortened games.
Nobody threw the ball more than the Falcons in 2019. It's unlikely we see Gurley flirt with more than 15 or so rushes per week. Perhaps there's an underrated TD ceiling here; nobody has more rushing scores than Gurley since 2018, and he's entering *maybe* a better overall offense. The Falcons are one of just seven teams with 150 or more unaccounted for carries from 2019 to 2020.
To be clear: Gurley wasn't awful in 2019.
Still, I'll largely be fading Gurley at his top-20 ADP. There are RBs with less volume and health concerns that don't have to learn brand-new offenses going later in drafts. It'd be a lot of fun if Gurley returns to 2015, 2017 or 2018 form, but it's tough to get behind this idea at his current cost. Don't hate the player; hate the ADP.