You Should Avoid Todd Gurley in Fantasy Football Drafts

Concerns about Gurley's health have dropped his fantasy football cost, but the bargain isn't enough to draft him.

Everything becomes a value at some cost.

You can say you'd never buy an iPhone, but if the iPhone cost just a few bucks, you'd undoubtedly make the purchase. If you hate Chipotle, but they were offering two-dollar burrito bowls, maybe you'd reconsider your stance and go there for lunch.

If Todd Gurley became a ninth-round fantasy football selection, you'd take him. We'd all take him.

But that's not reality.

According to DRAFT's best ball average draft position data, in the month of June, Gurley's being selected at Pick 17. That may seem like a steal -- it's Todd Gurley, after all.

But it's not.

A Healthy Projection

As a lot of you know -- hopefully all of you -- Todd Gurley's got a knee issue. It's arthritis, and it was a reason we didn't see the typical Gurley workload in the Rams' backfield across the final games of the regular season and into the playoffs last season. It also seems to be a reason the Rams went out and traded up for Darrell Henderson.

Clearly, a healthy Gurley would place him at the top of fantasy draft boards. The Rams' system is running back-friendly, and Gurley himself has finished with the highest fantasy football points per game average at his position in each of the past two seasons. Without a knee injury, he'd be a no-brainer top pick.

But he's got a bad knee. And that screws with Gurley's outlook.

A report from earlier in the month stated that Gurley's bell cow days are over. He'll no longer see the workload that he's used to seeing. Let's keep things simple and say that Gurley's looking at just a percentage of his production from last season from a projection standpoint, then.

Percent of Production Gurley Points Per Game Points Per Game Rank
100% 26.6 1st
90% 23.9 4th
80% 21.3 8th
70% 18.6 9th
60% 16.0 11th
50% 13.3 19th

Had Gurley captured just 70% of his points per game average last year, he still would've been a top-10 running back in fantasy. He's now being drafted just outside the top-10. That makes him a bargain, right?

Projection-wise, sure. In actuality, my own projections have Gurley as a fringe top-12 running back in fantasy football.

I'm still not drafting him there, though.

More Than a Projection

The number of points a player scores is what matters in fantasy football, so when we project a player to score a certain number of points, that's what's most important.

Sort of.

You can draft by strictly looking at a projection, but that end number isn't explaining the journey. It's not explaining predictability or variance. It's not telling us, going into a season, what that player's upside and downside -- his risk profile -- really looks like.

Assume Todd Gurley's projection reflects a player who's going to see 70% of the workload he saw last season. That puts him at, let's say, the RB10 for 2019.

By comparing that RB10 price tag to his average draft position, he looks like a value. Or, at the very least, it looks like his cost is very fair.

But where's the upside? Where can Gurley's role grow? Remember, we're assuming -- and why shouldn't we? -- that Gurley is no longer the team's bell cow back. So, all of a sudden, he doesn't actually have a top-five ceiling in fantasy football. It's at least incredibly unlikely, especially with some very solid running back options at the top of the board this year.

So in drafting Gurley by his projection, you're arguably buying him at his ceiling. If you know his workload won't reach workhorse levels, then what are you doing taking him ahead of players who have that workhorse potential?

In turn, his projection needs to be lowered in order to capture his floor, or the lowest reasonable output we'd expect him to have next season.

And that floor is scary, folks. I mean, what if Gurley's knee is worse than expected?

What if the Rams decide to use Gurley in an entirely different way?

The Downside

We've already seen what happens to the Rams' backfield with a banged-up Todd Gurley -- we witnessed it last year during their three-game playoff run.

All Touches Todd Gurley CJ Anderson
Attempts 30 46
Targets 7 5

In those contests, Gurley was out-attempted by CJ Anderson all while having just two more targets. He saw about 40% of the rushes between the two players.

But Gurley saw just 12% of the red-zone carries, and he didn't touch the ball once at the goal line.

Red ZoneTodd GurleyCJ Anderson
Red Zone Attempts215
Goal Line Attempts04

This has the potential to change things dramatically. The allure with Todd Gurley in fantasy football is largely touchdown-based. Over the last two years combined, Gurley has seen 126 rushes in the red zone. The next closest player, Ezekiel Elliott, is at 79. At the goal line (within the opponent's five-yard line), Gurley's seen 44 attempts, when the player ranked second has 30 (Mark Ingram).

Could the Rams use one of their other backs close to the end zone? The other backs on the roster certainly don't have the same size profile that CJ Anderson does, but that area of the field is one where bodies bang against one another relentlessly. It's a place where you may want to limit Gurley's touches, at least a bit.

And there's another usage concern to bring up: why use Todd Gurley when games are out of hand? Why use him when the Rams are almost certainly going to win an individual game? Wouldn't the Rams want to rest him?

Well, if they do rest him, know that, over the last two seasons, no team has had more running plays in the fourth quarter while leading by double-digit points.

That may limit his touch upside as well.

Overall predictability is a key piece here, too. Is there not a scenario where LA locks up a playoff spot early and just shuts Gurley down until the postseason? Or what if they decide to utilize him less during the front half of the year in order to save him, giving you weak performances through your first eight or nine fantasy contests?

Each of these scenarios is entirely possible. And each one could significantly hurt Gurley's upside.

Avoiding Gurley

Again, a healthy Todd Gurley would be the consensus first overall pick in drafts this year. If you're under the impression that Gurley still has an opportunity to be a bell cow in the LA backfield, then, sure, draft him at his current cost.

Evidence just seems to suggest this won't happen. The Rams didn't feature him in the playoffs. They traded up and drafted a running back with a Day 2 pick back in April. Reports are out there flat out stating that his touch ceiling may be limited.

And if that's the case, why would we draft Todd Gurley in the middle of the second round?