Fantasy Football Profile: Todd Gurley
Just two short years ago, we heard things like “this kid is the best running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson,” and that he’s “a rare blend of speed and power.” Fast forward to 2017 and we’re hearing things like “he’s the next Trent Richardson, doesn’t matter who his coach is,” and that “his team is so awful, he’ll be in the same situation as he was last year.” The player I’m talking about is, of course, Todd Gurley.
The funny part is that I left out what happened in between those two extremes, but that’s what we’re here to discuss today. Should you be drafting Gurley in 2017? Not just that, but where should you feel comfortable drafting him? You’ll hear all the pros and cons, but the information presented should make the decision much clearer for you.
Let’s start by asking something – did you know that Gurley finished as the No. 20 running back last year? How about the fact that he’s the No. 7 running back if you were to combine the last two years? That’s despite the fact that he missed essentially four games in 2015. The majority of hatred for Gurley comes from his draft position last year, because when you’re taken as the No. 1 running back and disappoint, it’ll often be overexaggerated. But there is plenty more to critique than just his draft stock last year. In fact, it goes back to his 2015 season when he finished as the No. 5 running back.
Breakout 2015 Season
When Gurley came onto the scene, he was like sugar to a kid. We just couldn’t get enough of him. DFS, redraft, dynasty, you name it, we wanted Gurley. In the first four full games of his career, he totaled 566 rushing yards on 88 carries, good for 6.43 yards per carry. All was great and he was living up to the humongous expectations. But then something happened and he hasn’t been the same player since. Outside of those four games, Gurley totaled just 540 yards on 141 carries, or 3.83 yards per carry in the remainder of his rookie year. He was somewhat banged up at the end of the season, so we thought maybe that was to blame.
Looking closer at his 2015 season, Gurley totaled 46 percent of his yardage on just 16 carries (15-plus yard carries). He was doing what everyone expected him to do coming out of college. In 2016, he lost his big play ability and recorded just two carries that went for more than 20 yards (24- and 22-yard carries). In fact, Gurley hasn’t topped 85 rushing yards in his last 18 games despite averaging 17.7 carries per game in that span. When a running back gets as much work as Gurley did in 2016, it’s a rare sight to see them not record a single carry of 25 yards, especially when you consider Gurley’s pedigree. I’m not one of the guys that was selling the farm for Gurley when he came to the NFL, but there were no signs that he would be a bust. I’ve found myself wondering if there was something wrong with him last year.
Positives from 2016?
Despite lacking true upside in 2016, Gurley did give his fantasy owners some serviceable games. The average score to get into the top-24 PPR receivers last year was 11.5 fantasy points, a number that Gurley hit in 10 of 16 games. There were just nine running backs who hit that number more than him, and the only one not being drafted in the top two rounds is 34-year-old Frank Gore. When looking at what was the worst year of Gurley’s football life, it’s quite remarkable that he provided the RB2 value that he did. Stop and think about that for a second. His absolute floor is an RB2, though we have already seen what his ceiling potentially is.
An underrated portion to running back evaluations is their contributions to the passing game, as Gurley actually finished five spots higher in PPR formats than he did in standard. Despite third-down specialist Benny Cunningham on the roster, Gurley’s pass-game involvement was there, as he saw 58 targets (tied for 12th among running backs) in 2016. This helps him become game-script-proof in a way that most running backs aren’t. The Rams did go out and snag Lance Dunbar in free agency, but lost Cunningham, which is somewhat of a wash.
Looking over that information, you’re likely to say, “Mike, he’s a definite pass in 2017 drafts, right?” Not so fast. With a player like Gurley, he’ll be given every opportunity to succeed, and new head coach Sean McVay has made it clear that the offense will revolve around Gurley. In today’s NFL, we want volume, and Gurley is going to get as much as he can handle. I’ll say this – there isn’t a running back being drafted after him who is guaranteed as much work as he is. The difference in running back scoring on a per-touch basis is extremely small, so you often want to lean on a running back that you can safely project volume for. Here’s a stat to back that up: There were 22 running backs who finished with at least 182 carries last year. They all finished inside the top 24 running backs in fantasy. Volume is always going to be king.
Do you remember when Le’Veon Bell averaged just 3.5 yards per carry? Yeah, neither does anybody else. There is no way that I can disguise or manipulate numbers to make it look otherwise, Gurley was bad in 2016. But when stepping back, removing the player’s name and emotion out of it, Gurley makes a ton of sense as a low-end RB1 with upside in 2017. He’s one of eight running backs that I’m projecting for 250 carries, and as we’ve established in this article, volume is king. There is legitimately zero risk to Gurley losing his job, another benefit to drafting him. There are others being drafted in his range who can potentially lose their job in-season. Remember, you wouldn’t be drafting him with a top-three overall pick like last year.
The Rams also went out and surrounded him with better talent, including left tackle Andrew Whitworth from the Bengals, who is continually one of the best run-blocking tackles in all of football, as well as selecting three skill position players in three of the first four rounds in the NFL Draft. Over his three years in Washington as the offensive coordinator, McVay’s offenses ranked 13th, 17th, and 3rd in total offensive yards, a good sign for the future of Gurley. Here’s the final tip: If Gurley would’ve averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season (this is a very achievable number in 2017), he would have finished as the No. 14 running back in what was a historically good season for running backs in 2016.
Before I started this article on Gurley, I didn’t like him very much. Now, I’m hoping that I can land him in the late second-round in redraft leagues. He’s slightly more risky in dynasty, as his price hasn’t really come down, so there’s not much room for error. All-in-all, he’s a former high first-round NFL Draft pick that’s already flashed, he’s got a young up-and-coming head coach, and he’s got zero competition on the roster. If Gurley plays all 16 games, I’m willing to bet that he finishes inside the top 12 running backs this year.
If you’ve missed any of the other Player Profiles that have gone up, you can see the full list right here.