By: Pierre Camus (Twitter: @pfunk00)
There’s no other way to slice it: Todd Gurley was the biggest disappointment in Fantasy Football last season. He didn’t end up with the lowest point total among all RBs, but when you are the top overall pick in many leagues, you’d better deliver more than 885 rushing yards. The worst part about his performance was the equal distribution of his suckiness ineptitude. He didn’t run for 100 yards once all season and only posted one multi-TD game (Week 3). Gurley sank a lot of Fantasy owners from the start, totaling 42 yards from scrimmage in Week 1 against a 49ers, the team that turned out to have one of the worst run defenses in NFL history, allowing an average of 172.6 yards per game from that point on. It’s hard to imagine that the same player who scored 10 TDs in 12 starts as a rookie, averaging 4.8 Y/A, could suddenly drop to 3.2 Y/A and finish with a long run of 24 yards.
What should we expect from Gurley in year three and beyond? First, let’s dispel some popular myths. Everyone gleefully threw Jeff Fisher under the bus both before and after he was fired for ruining the Rams’ offense. Seeing as how they finished 31st in both rushing and passing offense, I can’t argue with that conclusion. The question remains whether Gurley should shoulder some of the blame himself or if a bounce back is indeed possible.
To start, let’s look at the state of the OL. Gurley relies on physicality just as much as speed, so he needs to get some help up front. The Rams had the 27th ranked OL by year’s end. They began the rebuilding process by adding Andrew Whitworth from Cincinnati to play Left Tackle. He has 11 years of experience and is a three-time Pro Bowler, including the last two seasons. The Rams are also expected to take at least one OL in the draft, most likely including their center of the future in the second or third round. Finally, the addition of Robert Woods may help in the run-blocking department, as he was undoubtedly a big part of the Bills’ success last season.
The changes in coaching staff should also work in Gurley’s favor. Bad Jeff Fisher memes aside, the injection of new blood with offensive-minded Sean McVay can only help. His first task will be to draw Jared Goff’s potential out so that defenses can’t zone in on the run as they did for all of 2016. The team also hired Aaron Kromer from Buffalo to be their new OL coach. Again, not a coincidence that they are borrowing from the team that had the best rushing attack in the league.
The main factor working in Gurley’s favor is his dominance of carries in L.A. Last season, despite such lackluster results, he toted the rock on 77% of the team’s rushing attempts. In the red zone, that number jumps even higher to 80%. Hell, he nearly tied for the team lead in red zone targets among all pass catchers with 11. The Rams lost Benny Cunningham and gained Lance Dunbar, which is a completely inconsequential move in terms of Gurley’s value. Unless the Rams happen to sign a relatively seasoned veteran RB with some life left (they won’t), Gurley is one of the few RBs who will enter 2017 with bell-cow status. That alone makes him no worse than an RB2, even on a bad team. Best case scenario, his numbers regress to the mean, other players drafted ahead of him struggle or get injured, and Gurley is a top-10 back again.
The Rams project to be around the middle of the pack in terms of strength of schedule, so there may not be a massive leap in production, but neither should there be a bigger drop. The changes the Rams have made, their commitment to improve the running game, and Gurley’s complete domination of backfield share should keep him as one of the higher-end RB2 targets in early drafts. His value carries a little more weight in standard leagues than PPR since he’s not a huge pass-catching threat, but should find a way to score at least eight TDs.
The results of the Rams’ off-season moves remain to be seen, but in the NFL, what goes down often comes up, as parity reigns. The franchise should only improve from this point on, so investing dynasty stock in young skill position players like Gurley, Goff, Higbee or Cooper would seem wise. Gurley won’t be going in the first round of any Fantasy drafts this year, but he is currently being taken mid-second round (2.04) in Redraft leagues and is a bit lower (2.07) in Dynasty. He isn’t worth overpaying for again, but once the top 10 RBs are off the board, don’t hesitate to snatch him up, especially if he slips to the third round or later. Remember, we are still talking about a 22 year old running back with a 1,000 yard season under his belt and the ability to take over a game.