The Los Angeles Rams’ starting running back, Todd Gurley,
might be the most talented back in the league, but he’s also
going to be the most difficult player to evaluate this September.
You might ask how one of the most gifted running backs in the NFL
can be so difficult to evaluate?
Let me first cloudy the issue before clearing it up.
First the good.
Over the past two regular seasons, Gurley has rushed for 2,556
yards, caught 123 balls for 1,368 yards and scored 40 times. He’s
averaged 21.81 fantasy points per game. His 632.4 fantasy points
is 131.8 fantasy points better than No. 2 Alvin Kamara.
He plays in an explosive Rams’ offense which averaged 32.9 points
per game last season (2nd best). In 2018 they led the league in
scoring. Gurley has averaged 329 touches per season since 2017
despite not playing in all 16 games in either year (combined for
29 of 32 games).
The Rams offensive line was ranked No. 1 by Football Outsiders
in Adjusted Line Yards at 5.49. (The Adjusted Line Yards formula
takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the
offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120%
value, 0-4 Yards: 100% value, 5-10 Yards: 50% value, 11+ Yards:
He’s coached by one of the most innovative offensive minds in
the league – Sean McVay.
Running back C.J. Anderson, who became a late-season fantasy
sensation, is now employed by the Detroit Lions. Anderson ran
for 167 yards and 132 yards in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively.
He carried the ball 43 times while Gurley mostly sat and watched,
rushing just 12 times.
You would think that all these factors would make Gurley an easy
selection in the first round. Not so fast!
Now for the bad.
In November of 2014, while playing for Georgia in a game against
SEC rival Auburn, Gurley blew out his left ACL in a non-contact
injury. Gurley also suffered an “unspecified left knee injury”
in Week 1 of 2018, dealing with it and playing until the final
two games of the regular season. He originally called the issue
an "inflammation." He did rush 16 times for 115 yards
against Dallas in the first playoff game, but then disappeared
in the conference championship against New Orleans (four carries
for 10 yards) and the Super Bowl (10 carries for 35 yards). If
Gurley’s knee wasn’t an issue then his usage rate
in the final two playoff games would be “criminal.”
If Gurley’s knee is still an issue, it would explain matching
the Lions’ offer sheet for backup Malcolm Brown. It would
also justify the high 2019 draft-day price (a third-round pick,
No. 70 overall) for Darrell Henderson, an explosive back out of
Memphis. That’s a lot of running back talent for a coach
that almost exclusively uses an “11” formation (one
back, one tight end, three wideouts).
Then there are McVay’s recent statements.
“Being able to give somebody a chance to come in and
provide a different threat is exactly what we identified in Henderson,”
Translation - This likely means Henderson will be used instead
of Gurley as a third-down and long yardage receiver? Oops, there
goes a significant portion of those 1,300+ receiving yards and
“As far as managing the workload, those are things that
we talk about with Todd and as you continue to get educated on,
is that something that we should do for the long haul …”
Translation - It’s also possible that Brown and Henderson
will pick up a larger percentage of the rushing attempts than
in previous seasons.
Gurley will likely see little or no playing time in preseason
for fantasy owners to see for themselves that he is healthy …
So what we have is an extremely talented running back, who has
been the best in the league, with a management team that has brought
in talent to take some of the pressure off their star with the
arthritic left knee. That’s great for Rams fans, not so
good for fantasy owners.
If it was just C.J. Anderson behind Gurley, fantasy owners could
handcuff the two and feel relatively safe heading into the season.
But with two distinctly different types of backs behind Gurley
in 2019, it’s more likely the two would share the workload
as his replacement and thus a precarious situation for fantasy