Todd Gurley: A Pro and Con Debate (2019 Fantasy Football)
Throughout 11 years of blockbuster storytelling, the Infinity Stones have served as the central MacGuffins-or plot devices-driving the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These elemental crystals each control an essential aspect of existence and though the reality stone was introduced in the MCU’s worst entry (sorry, Thor: The Dark World), it is by far the coolest of the bunch. It grants its user absolute control over reality itself (imagine never having to split a check ever again).
But the ability to warp perception actually already exists, though obviously not to the degree Thanos had in mind. We do it in fantasy football all the time, twisting numbers and narratives to fit our opinions rather than the other way around. That’s why it’s absolutely paramount to entertain opposing viewpoints so that a more holistic picture can be painted. You can’t go into your drafts with only one side of an argument.
With that in mind, it’s time to listen to our inner Believer and Naysayer as they debate the realistic prospects of fantasy’s most divisive player at the moment: Todd Gurley.
Believer: Naysayer, you small-minded fool. The Los Angeles Rams ranked second in points per game and yards per game in 2018. Gurley finds himself in a fantasy-rich environment conducive to big point totals.
How can you be so down on him?
Naysayer: Ah, the sweet smell of pretentiousness in the morning. Never change, Believer.
I wouldn’t say Gurley is in a “bad” fantasy environment. Just as teams hired new head coaches based on their proximity to Sean McVay this offseason, I, too, have fallen under the spell of the play-calling wunderkind. But in the 10 seasons prior to 2018, 36 teams averaged at least 3.0 touchdowns per game in a given season before dropping to an average of 2.7 the following year. While that’s still safely above the league average (2.3), it does hint at regression in 2019.
Believer: If we’re still talking about above-average production than the regression you speak of is minimal at worst. You must be one of those guys who rant on Twitter about blockbuster sequels destroying their childhood.
Even if LA’s offense does slow a bit this season, you’re still talking about a guy who totaled 3,924 yards and 40 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Under McVay, he’s averaging 1,900 yards and 20 scores per season. He finished eighth in fantasy points per touch last year. What more do you want?
You can’t argue with Gurley’s production in this very same offense unless you’re cuckoo banana cray cray.
Naysayer: True, but as we’re reminded of in NFL free agency every offseason, past production isn’t always an indicator of future success. You’d know that if you weren’t so busy yelling over everyone like Stephen A. Smith during Sweeps Week.
At his current ADP of eighth overall, Gurley is arguably the biggest risk in the draft.
Believer: [audibly scoffs while pouring himself a shot of bourbon]
Naysayer: He missed two regular season games due to injury and has played a full season just once in his career. He saw just 16 touches in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl combined. If he was healthy, why didn’t McVay play him given the track record of success you so forcefully pointed out? If he wasn’t healthy (and reports suggest he’s dealing with arthritis in his knee) what does that say about his 2019 forecast?
The Rams must be somewhat concerned since they packaged two picks to move up into the third round and draft the explosive Darrell Henderson. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 70/30 or 60/40 workload split this year. But I’d hardly expect you to follow any type of Sherlockian deductive reasoning.
Believer: Like a Presidential Twitter thread, you’re taking one detail and blowing it completely out of proportion. Are Gurley’s days averaging 23 touches per game over? Perhaps. But he’s not going to disappear.
Let’s split the difference and say Gurley does end up in a 65/35 timeshare (doubtful). That still equates to around 1,200-plus total yards and 13 touchdowns. Those are roughly Melvin Gordon numbers and he’s finished as an RB1 in each of the last two seasons. If that’s not to your liking then you need to be thrown from your high horse immediately.
Naysayer: So theatrical. You’re like one of those Real Housewives stars nursing their fourth glass of wine and just itching for their juicy confessional.
Believer: Hey, Naysayer, the Kingdom of Overblown Conclusions called, they need their Drama Queen back. You better head over there before the monarchy collapses completely without you.
Before getting injured in Week 15, Gurley had played 86 percent of the offense’s snaps, essentially matching his elite 2017 campaign. In terms of overall snap count, he averaged 58.9 plays per game, good for third at the position. His consistent usage (including a healthy 5.78 targets per game) is a big reason why he led all flex-eligible players in OTD, which measures scoring opportunities. It was a fluke injury that derailed his season. Up until that point, he was pure gold and was trusted as such by the Rams.
Naysayer: Unlike your love life, two can play at this game, Believer. Gurley still ranked behind Christian McCaffrey (60.3 snaps per game) and Ezekiel Elliott (59.3) while Saquon Barkley (53.3) and James Conner (55.2) were both in spitting distance. There are far safer picks in the first round that don’t carry the same injury risks or positional competition. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Gurley is more of a late first-rounder or early second-rounder.
Believer: Okay, now I know you’re crazy. Next thing you’re going to tell me is that Green Book really did deserve Best Picture.
Believer: Forget it, I’m done. I’ll see you in the playoffs.
Brandon Katz is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Brandon, check out his archive and follow him @great_katzby.