NFL

Todd Gurley's Fantasy Football Best Is Behind Him, But He's Still Valuable in Atlanta

We can learn a lot about how the modern day NFL values running backs based on Todd Gurley's release from the Los Angeles Rams after they unsuccessfully sought trade opportunities for weeks.

Two years removed from winning Offensive Player of the Year, Gurley couldn't be unloaded. Of course, he's not 100%, and he's got a massive contract to deal with, but hey, I'm just here for the fantasy football side of this conversation.

While it's very true that running backs may not be valued at top dollar and as must-keep franchise cornerstones, we still know that they matter plenty for our fantasy football teams.

Gurley may not turn his new team, the Atlanta Falcons, into Super Bowl contenders (they were +4400 to win on FanDuel Sportsbook before signing him), but can he post another elite fantasy season with his new team?

Gurley's Recent Production

I'm not much for a straw man, but based on some of the perception I've gauged, I'm starting to think people think Todd Gurley is bad. Like utterly, sincerely, bad and overrated and not good at all. And while he may not be the back he used to be, he's still not bad.

Gurley fell in 2019 from his elite 2017 and 2018 campaigns, when he averaged 1,962 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns per season. In 2019, he totaled only 1,064 scrimmage yards but still did see 14 touchdowns and now has double-digit scores in four of his five seasons in the NFL.

We can't just attribute rushing touchdowns to running backs -- so don't take it that way -- yet the point remains that Gurley still finished as a top-16 fantasy running back in 2019 in terms of PPR points per game.

He did that on the fewest touches (254) he's had since his rookie season (250), amid concerns about his health and arthritis. Here's a weird thing, though: Gurley played 71% of the Rams' snaps in 2019, down only marginally from 74%, 75%, and 76% the three prior years.

That can be viewed any way you like it: he was on the field just as much and didn't get the opportunities so things can trend back up, or he was on the field a lot and didn't get the opportunities because he can't handle more work. Of course, there were talks about getting Gurley more involved during the season in 2019, so I'm inclined to lean a little more toward the former here.

Another counterpoint to the idea that Gurley has nothing left to give is that, among 45 running backs with at least 100 carries in 2019, Gurley ranked third in Rushing Success Rate, the percentage of his carries that increased expected scoring for the Rams, based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

He ranked a lowlier 23rd in actual Rushing NEP per carry -- but he totaled the same per-carry Rushing NEP as Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley, for what it's worth.

Offensive Fit

The Falcons finished the 2019 season ranked ninth in Adjusted NEP per play, which is just numberFire's go-to offensive efficiency metric. The Rams were 16th. The passing games were pretty much identical (top-11 units, with the Rams slightly better at 10th).

The differentiation came in the running game. Neither rushing attack was good, but the Falcons ranked 19th, and the Rams were 26th. Was that Gurley's fault?

Well, ProFootballFocus ranked the Falcons' run blocking as the 11th-best in the NFL last year despite playing most of the year without Chris Lindstrom. The Rams were ranked 26th. It's not unfathomable to view this as a rather clear situation upgrade for Gurley. Plus, Gurley posted an elite Success Rate in a suboptimal situation in 2019 -- even without being in his best form.

Though top-end explosiveness may be gone, that's something we can live with. Todd Gurley may just be a different running back now than he was two years ago. That's okay.

The Bottom Line

Gurley's workhorse days are done, and seriously, that's fine. Hardly any NFL running back is a true workhorse at this point. Players like the new Gurley exist aplenty throughout the fantasy football landscape, clinging to life as RB2s in mediocre or bad offenses. Gurley finds himself in a top-10 offense and may be still pretty decent at football.

The overall point here is that we have to quit viewing Gurley like the first-round fantasy football pick he used to be and view him as what he is now: a back-end RB1 or a high-end RB2 for our fantasy teams. If we can get to that point, then we can still benefit from having him on our teams.

We'll have to see where his draft-day price lands when the time comes, but the arrow remains pointing up on Gurley. The new version of Fantasy Football Todd Gurley.

Our editor-in-chief, JJ Zachariason, initially projects Gurley for 235 rushes, 964 yards, 7.6 rushing touchdowns, 44 catches, 338 receiving yards, and 1.6 receiving touchdowns. That's a PPR stat line that would have ranked him as the RB13 last year. He is listed as FantasyPros' consensus RB15.