NFC West

Draft Guide Exclusive – Todd Gurley: Draft at Your Own Risk – A. Haage

by Anthony Haage

Todd Gurley has been the best fantasy running back for the past two years, but entering 2019, he faces serious questions. The first 15 weeks of last season were the Todd Gurley we know and love, scoring 21 TD’s with 1,831 total yards from scrimmage (20.6 standard PTS/GM), in FIFTEEN games. Of course, everyone knows how ineffective he was at the end of the season and in the postseason, and that bias has recently made everyone forget how incredible he was the first 15 weeks of the season (which is pretty much every game except two or three depending on the league settings). 

Gurley’s injury history is very concerning considering he tore his ACL in 2014 and battled arthritis in his left knee at the end of last year. The Rams have been taking the necessary procedures to help Gurley get back to full strength, but it’s never a guarantee. Knee injuries are the worst nightmare for running backs and fantasy owners.

With the Rams taking Darrell Henderson out of Memphis in the third round of the 2019 draft, that locks up the late round steal of the draft if Gurley misses time. CJ Anderson was a great running back for the Rams at the end of last season and has signed with the Lions this off-season. Anderson was very valuable to fantasy owners at the end of last year and those points can transfer into Darrell Henderson this year. Look for Darrell Henderson for one of your backup running backs in the late rounds of this years draft, especially if you get Gurley.

I was lucky enough to own Todd Gurley the last two seasons and I have been rewarded from his production, but as much as it pains me to say it, there are many other running backs I would take ahead of him just because of his knee issues. McVay has mentioned running more two running back sets which would obviously hurt Gurley’s fantasy value. RBBC approaches in real-life NFL have been effective, but not so much in fantasy. The committee will help Gurley long-term and health-wise, but I think this is a year to take serious caution before drafting Todd Gurley.

While I know it is hard to draft someone with major knee concerns in the first round, I would still consider taking Gurley near the end of the first round or the end of the second round at the latest. With Gurley being the highest paid running back in the NFL ($14.4 million annually), the Rams will certainly not be giving up on him. If everyone stays optimistic and Gurley’s knee prevails, he could dominate the league for the third year in a row. He has the perfect place out of basically everyone in the entire fantasy world. He has a mastermind at head coach, a decent o-line, solid quarterback, and great defense to help the offense stay on the field. 

McVay’s base offense of a zone blocking scheme was very effective for a large portion of the season last year. While the Patriots did make it look like child’s play in the Super Bowl, it also showed how the running game is the focal point of their offense. The offense was based around the zone run, play action scheme, and it looked like the same play over and over in the playoffs and wasn’t as effective as the regular season. Now, McVay has his work cut out for him this year because he needs to solidify a straight up passing game to help the running game and play-action. A lot of this year’s LA Rams offense is going to have to show that it can rely on Jared Goff instead of Todd Gurley to keep defenses honest, but if anyone is up for the task, it’s Sean McVay. Then again, it all comes down to Todd Gurley’s left knee. 

Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliot, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Melvin Gordon are running backs I would feel better about drafting before Todd Gurley in this year’s draft. Saquon is almost locked in at #1 due to his superior skill (I don’t like his situation, but that’s for another time), Zeke has been solid ever since coming into the league and will be again this year, Kamara will once again be without Mark Ingram (we all know what he does without Mark Ingram), and McCaffrey and Melvin Gordon have been solid producers respectively. 

After those five studs, everyone else has some questions around them. David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and James Conner can be taken before or after Gurley and it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. David Johnson appears to be in for a major bounce back year, but you never know with a lackluster o-line, new coach, and new quarterback; it could be ugly just because of adjusting to the NFL for coach Kingsbury and QB Murray or it could be electrifying with their revamped receiving corps and the young stud QB. Le’Veon, of course, has been out of football for an entire year and that should give him fresh legs, but he also is on a team with a young QB and there is his history of missing time due to suspensions and leg injuries. James Conner was Bell’s backup and will have the starting job, but whispers of a RBBC have been rising.

All of these running backs can either be blown out of the water by Gurley or out-produce him. All in all, it is who you prefer more and is ultimately going to come down to which questions get answered best. 

In regards to being a Todd Gurley fantasy owner for the past two seasons, I have been lucky to have him. I hope Todd Gurley and his knee regain health and come back as strong as before, but this year I would hesitate to choose him. I would feel more comfortable selecting a top tier WR at the end of the first round or a RB on the rise. I’m sorry Todd Gurley, and I hope you prove me wrong. 

 

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