You Should Buy the Rams' Backfield in Fantasy Football With Todd Gurley Gone

Through the first 14 games of the 2018 season, Todd Gurley was having another massive season. He had run for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns while adding 580 and 4 through the air. It wasn't his near-MVP season of the year before, but he was absolutely cooking.

Then he missed the final two regular season games to rest his knees. And now -- just 16 months later -- Gurley's looking for a new team.

Things can change in an instant in the NFL. At no position is that more true than at running back.

Gurley will clearly have suitors on the open market, and we can discuss his outlook once that situation materializes. But what does this mean for the Los Angeles Rams' backfield in fantasy football?

Let's dig into that now and see if we can develop any sort of a consensus about where they go from here.

Ambiguity Abounds

With Gurley gone, the Rams have two in-house candidates who could fill his shoes in Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. Unfortunately, neither really stepped up last year.

When Gurley missed the team's game with the San Francisco 49ers, Brown's 11 carries turned into just 40 yards. He had no targets for the entire game.

Henderson sprinkled in, playing 32.7% of the snaps, but he did show a bit of a spark with 39 yards on 6 carries, adding 2 targets. The issue isn't the production; it's the lack of usage even with Gurley out.

Brown later missed a couple of games himself due to injury, and Henderson's role did increase in that span. But once Brown came back, Henderson slid right back into the doghouse.

Gurley's role grew down the stretch with a higher snap rate, meaning there were fewer backup snaps to go around. But across the final six games, Henderson barely saw the field.

Snap Rates Malcolm Brown Darrell Henderson
Week 12 3.7% 0.0%
Week 13 22.8% 8.9%
Week 14 20.0% 0.0%
Week 15 4.1% 0.0%
Week 16 20.0% 2.9%
Week 17 31.7% 0.0%

Even in their season-ending win over the Arizona Cardinals where nothing was on the line, Henderson didn't play a single offensive snap. That paints a grim picture of his outlook.

The reason the focus is on Henderson here is that he clearly seems to be the more intriguing option between the two. They drafted him in the third round just last year, and Henderson had an electric profile coming out of Memphis. There is upside there. But the Rams exhibited no faith in him for the entire 2019 season.

A potential explanation for their lack of faith in Henderson is that he struggled when he was on the field. Here's a look at how each member of the Rams' backs performed this past year. "Rushing NEP per carry" is the number of Net Expected Points the player added or subtracted on each carry throughout the year, and "Rushing Success Rate" is the percentage of carries that increased the team's expected points for the drive.

In 2019 Rushes Rushing NEP per Carry Rushing Success Rate
Todd Gurley 223 -0.02 46.6%
Malcolm Brown 69 -0.01 40.6%
Darrell Henderson 39 -0.15 38.5%

Gurley's advanced numbers were actually still solid as he posted the third-best Success Rate among all backs with at least 100 carries. Henderson -- while running behind the same offensive line -- posted much worse marks, even when compared to Brown.

Because of these struggles for Brown and Henderson, it's entirely possible that the Rams add to this running-back room via the draft or free agency. The problem is that they aren't necessarily swimming in draft capital, and the reason they cut Gurley to begin with was a lack of salary cap space. They traded their first-round pick for Jalen Ramsey and hold just six picks as of now. Given how many holes they have to fill with losses on the defensive side of the ball, their wiggle room for adding another back is minimal.

That lack of draft capital is why this situation is worth exploring even after the struggles of the incumbents of last year. There's a decent chance that it's Brown and Henderson leading the charge, and there's a ton of volume on the table with Gurley gone. It means we should be taking swipes at this backfield even without the knowledge of who will be the lead option.

Fantasy Fallout

With Gurley out the window, the cost of acquisition for both Brown and Henderson is going to rise. We can rest assured on that. It doesn't mean we'll have to avoid them, though.

numberFire's JJ Zachariason ran his projections with Gurley gone and with no additions being made to this backfield. Again, there's a decent chance of that happening with how jammed up the Rams are in both salary cap and draft capital. With that assumption in mind, both Brown and Henderson shape up as being fantasy-relevant.

JJ's Projections Rushes Rush Yds TDs Targets Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs
Darrell Henderson 160.2 671.0 6.9 43.2 30.2 233.8 1.0
Malcolm Brown 156.2 664.0 6.8 34.5 25.6 161.2 0.7

If the work gets split right down the middle, those players are both at least worthy of flex consideration. But there's also the chance one could pull ahead. Even though we don't know whom that might be, we should be willing to pull the trigger on both.

If the public sours on Henderson after his down rookie year, he'll be worth scooping. The team seemed excited about him coming out of the draft, he brings explosiveness, and he's more likely to get work as a receiver than Brown. If a full offseason to learn the offense allows Henderson to gain the coaching staff's trust, he could be a major factor.

With that said, between the two, Henderson seems to be the one more likely to shoot up draft boards given his pedigree. If that happens, then Brown will be the one to buy.

Brown was the guy the coaching staff put in bubble wrap last preseason to preserve him for actual games, and he was the one who saw the bulk of the backup action down the stretch. The team's actions say they viewed him as their preferred option last year. That means there's a chance the same happens this year, so if he is the cheaper piece between the two, we should pounce.

From a dynasty perspective, Henderson is clearly the preferred route, though he'll also come at the highest cost. He has three years left on his rookie deal while Brown is currently slated to become a free agent after the 2020 season. If anybody here becomes a true fantasy stud, it's more likely to be Henderson, so it's worthwhile to look into acquiring him, even at what will be an elevated price tag. Just keep in mind the limitations outlined above, and if the cost to get him fails to account for it, it's okay to back off.

With Gurley gone, this is a fantasy backfield worth investigating. There's a ton of opportunity for the taking, and even with the lost pieces on the roster, this offense still projects to be above average. Until we have a better read on who will be the top option in the backfield, we should be willing to take stabs at both in the middle rounds and hope we wind up with a golden ticket.