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Steve Schwarz | Archive | Email |  
Staff Writer


Fantasy Impact: Atlanta's New Running Back - Todd Gurley
3/22/20


Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley in Los Angeles

After producing the most fantasy points-per-game of any running back for two consecutive seasons (25.8 FPts/G in 2017, 26.3 in 2018), Todd Gurley totally disappointed his fantasy owners in 2019 by dropping to 16th overall (223-857-12). Sure, we know all about Gurley’s arthritic knee, but was that the cause of his 2019 failure? I don’t think so.

From the chart below, the disappointing Rams running game in 2019 appears to be “team-wide” issue, not limited to Gurley. Which leads one to believe either the offensive line didn’t play up to previous seasons, or the play-calling led to the failure, or both.

In fact, Football Outsiders ranked the Rams run blocking just 19th last season after ranking third in 2017 and first in 2018. Add in head coach Sean McVay’s off-season decision to reduce Gurley’s workload to protect him for the playoffs and it should be evident that this was a team failure, not just a single running back failure.

 Rams' RBs: YPC
Player 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Todd Gurley 4.8 3.2 4.7 4.9 3.8
Malcolm Brown 4.3 2.2 3.9 4.9 3.7
Darrell Henderson x x x x 3.0
C.J. Anderson x x x 7 x
Benny Cunningham 3.8 4.8 x x x
Tre Mason 2.8 x x x x

Todd Gurley in Atlanta

The bad news for Gurley is the Atlanta Falcons run-blocking actually ranked below the Rams last season (24th). The team had attempted to fix their OL issues in the draft, selecting Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom (No. 14 overall) and Washington tackle Kaleb McGary (No. 31 overall), but Lindstrom missed 11 games due to a broken foot and McGary struggled mightily. With a season under their belt, the right side of the line should produce improved performance.

The Atlanta passing game was dynamic with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper preventing any defense from stacking of the box. They ranked third in passing yards and ninth in touchdown receptions. While the loss of free agent Hooper at tight end (signed by Cleveland) will be felt, the addition of Baltimore’s Hayden Hurst (30-349-2 as the No.3 TE behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle last season) will somewhat mitigate the loss.

Gurley is a solid receiver out of the backfield (averaging 49.3 receptions over the past four seasons) and should be able to take advantage of quarterback Matt Ryan’s increased use of running backs in the passing game. While Jared Goff targeted his backs just 10.1-percent of the time in 2019, Ryan’s backfield usage rate was 17-percent, 14.1-percent and 18.6-percent the past three seasons.

Expectations

With all due respect to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Gurley is the best back the Falcons have started in the Dan Quinn era. He is a dynamic runner and he can catch the ball. Unfortunately, Quinn has avoided the run game the past two seasons ranking 30th and 29th in rushing attempts, 27th and 30th in yards gained on the ground and 23rd and 24th in rushing touchdowns. That should change for the better in 2020 with an improving line and Gurley, but don’t go overboard.

Only once in the past eight seasons has Atlanta OC Dirk Koetter’s offense finished in the top-20 in rushing yards or yards-per-attempt (2015 in Tampa Bay). Just twice in that span his teams finished in the top-10 in rushing attempts. So, while Gurley will improve the Atlanta rushing attack, he certainly won’t reach the heights produced in Los Angeles. With his catching ability, however, he should still be a low-end RB1 in PPR leagues and an RB2 in standard scoring leagues.

Think Freeman, circa 2016 (227-1,079-11 and 54-462-2 for 17.9 FPts/G) as Gurley’s 2020 ceiling. Those totals would have been good enough for eighth-best last season and Joe Mixon last season (278-1,138-5 and 35-287-3 for 14.1 FPts/G) as his floor (20th-best).