With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at if the Los Angeles Rams’ $60 million man deserves to be taken No. 1 overall.
After taking the league by storm during a breathtaking rookie season, Todd Gurley quickly became a tragedy in 2016, rushing for only 885 yards on 278 carries (3.2 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.
Fast forward 12 months and suddenly the discussion for the No. 1 overall fantasy selection comes down to either Gurley or Le’Veon Bell after Gurley’s out-of-this-world rebound in 2017. Gurley’s league-leading 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns were spearheaded by new head coach Sean McVay’s innovative scheme, but the former No. 10 overall pick certainly deserves plenty of credit for once again establishing himself as one of the league’s premier backs. His dual-threat ability as a receiver and runner is virtually unrivaled in today’s NFL, and it earned him a record-setting four-year, $60 million contract with $45 million in guarantees.
Gurley the Receiver
The rationale for not heavily utilizing Gurley in passing situations during the first two seasons of his career will likely haunt Jeff Fisher to his grave. Gurley demonstrated receiving ability at Georgia with a 37-441-6 line in just 10 games as a sophomore, but inexplicably failed to find the end zone through the air or establish himself as a receiving threat with Fisher.
McVay has since weaponized Gurley as a receiver. The soon-to-be 24-year-old now joins the likes of David Johnson and Alvin Kamara as inside running threats who also boast receiver-like ability out of the backfield. Gurley finished 2017 as a top-five receiving back by just about every metric:
- Yards per route run: 2.14 (second)
- Reception yards: 788 (second)
- Receptions: 64 (fifth)
- Receiving touchdowns: 6 (first)
- Yards per target: 10.4 (first)
- Yards per receptions: 12.3 (tie-third)
Gurley combines short-area quickness with the ability to hit the gas and pull away from anybody at a moment’s notice. While he typically runs a handful of routes in the slot or as a wide receiver in every game, the Rams largely utilize him out of the backfield to get him out in space with a convoy of blockers. It’s tough to game plan against someone who is always just one broken tackle away from the end zone.
Todd Gurley out of the backfield is borderline erotic.
Remember when Jeff Fisher sided with something called Benny Cunningham on pass downs? pic.twitter.com/3DshXvEYkG
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 22, 2018
The Rams fed Gurley a healthy diet of fantasy-friendly opportunities through the air, as he was one of 10 backs with double-digit red zone targets and one of just six backs to average over 5.5 targets per game. There’s no reason to believe Gurley’s receiving workload will be dialed back in 2018. If anything, replacing space back/receiver Tavon Austin with rookie John Kelly could result in an increase in targets.
Gurley the Runner
As good of a receiver as Gurley is, the differentiating factor between him and other marquee pass-catching backs is his rushing workload – especially near the goal line. Although he played just 13 games due to injuries in his rookie year, Gurley finished that season with a league-high five rushes of 40+ yards. After an anemic 2016 campaign produced just two total runs longer than 20 yards in Fisher’s swan song, Gurley regained his efficient nature in 2017:
Gurley is a threat to take the ball the distance on any handoff, and few backs are afforded as many handoffs as Gurley; only Melvin Gordon racked up more games with 15+ carries last season than Gurley (12), and Gurley was one of just five backs to average at least 18 carries per game on the season.
And then there’s the red zone. Gurley scored nine touchdowns inside the 5-yard line in 2017 — one year after having just 10 carries from that distance. He paced all players last season in rushes inside the 20 (62) and the 5 (18). The Rams figure to once again be stout at the line of scrimmage, as they return all five starters from the league’s third-ranked offensive line in Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders. Pro Football Focus has the O-line ranked No. 10 in the league.
Los Angeles could also boast a better defense thanks to offseason additions Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters. If that unit helps the Rams play from in front even more, both Gurley’s volume and efficiency on the ground have a chance to increase. Per our NFL Trends tool, Gurley has averaged an additional 3.8 DraftKings points per game with a +3.6 Plus/Minus and a 63% Consistency Rating as a favorite during his career; according to lookahead lines, the Rams are the favorite in all but one of their first 15 games
Fantasy’s No. 1 pick in 2018 comes down to Gurley or Bell, who are each incredible talents, but Gurley appears to have the fantasy-friendly edge. Both former early-round picks possess ideal featured-back size and are on offenses with above-average quarterbacks and offensive lines, though Gurley is the superior athlete on an offense with fewer elite options.
It’s tough to go wrong with either Gurley or Bell, but the league’s reigning RB1 faces few obstacles in his quest to repeat as the No. 1 running back.
Pictured above: Todd Gurley
Photo credit: Joe Nicholson – USA TODAY Sports