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Todd Gurley Is a Bad Third Round Pick

Todd Gurley, the No. 1 non-quarterback fantasy football player in points per game in both 2017 and 2018, is currently being overdrafted in the second round of best ball drafts.

Gurley’s ADP has declined in the last month, but it has not fallen far enough. There should be extreme concern about Gurley’s health and his future in the NFL.

The Information We Have

We know that for some reason during the playoffs, Gurley was rendered useless in the most important games for his franchise in the last nineteen years, despite being the franchise’s biggest face behind McVay. It does not matter that C.J. Anderson crushed the competition when given the chance, if Gurley was capable of playing, he would have.

What new information do we have since then?

In March, an explanation was finally given for Gurley’s mysterious end-of-season usage. We learned of the grim diagnosis that Gurley has a chronic, incurable, and debilitating arthritic knee incurred due to overuse.

We learned Gurley will not participate in OTAs and is unlikely to play in the pre-season, either.

To complement those reports, McVay himself has voiced plans to limit Gurley’s workload. The shift in McVay’s tone on this issue is concerning, as we have not heard recent touts for Gurley that we might expect in this coach-speak time of the year. Throughout the playoffs, McVay insisted Gurley was healthy and even claimed “Gurley will be a big part of the game plan.” Obviously, despite those proclamations, McVay barely played Gurley because obviously the star running back was not healthy. But, now we are not even seeing that level of coach-speak out of McVay. In early April, McVay loosely threw out that he still “Expects Gurley to be a focal point of the offense,” but the credence behind that statement seemed to hang by a thread, and McVay has since doubled-back.

Recent quotes cite McVay’s extreme concern with Gurley’s workload.

April 30th:

As far as managing the workload, those are things that we talk about with Todd and as you continue to get educated on, is that something that we should do for the long haul or something that is or isn’t going to affect Todd most importantly and how does that affect our team.

May 28th in reference to Gurley’s absence from OTAs:

That was what we felt like was best for Todd when Todd and I sat down. And it’s been really good so far and we feel good about that.

It seems as if McVay was delusional about Gurley’s health in early 2019, but has finally come to terms with reality. As RotoWorld put it in their April 30th blurb:

It sounds like Gurley’s knee woes down the stretch last season were a wake-up call for his coach.

Even when sentiments were positive about Gurley in the playoffs, he did not play. And since then, attitudes have soured. Given the sequence of events, it is possible that Gurley will never return to the workhorse usage that made him a fantasy goldmine.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The words have not been good for Gurley’s outlook, but the actions his team has taken have been even worse for him.

With the 70th pick in the draft, the Rams selected Memphis RB Darrell Henderson. Henderson has gotten a lot of coverage as of late, and for good reason. He was RotoViz’s No. 1 pre-draft running back prospect and has the chops to take on as much work as the Rams will give him.

The other personnel move the Rams made was to match the offer sheet for Malcolm Brown and sign him to a two-year deal. Brown was  when given the chance last year, and it appears he or Henderson should be able to fill a void Gurley might leave.

Fantasy owners are forced to take the lack of optimism behind Gurely seriously at this point, behind the Rams certainly are.

All About Price

Price, as always, is the most important thing in fantasy. Given the significant risk that Gurley never returns to workhorse usage, I have no interest in him in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts.

Via the RotoViz ADP App, observe a similarity among all running backs being drafted in the first three rounds:

That similarity is that they all are currently pegged to have near-workhorse usage.1 Alvin Kamara might be the lone unique case in the group, but understand that he swallows up the entirety of the passing game work in the prolific Saints offense that loves to throw to its running backs and that he is capable of snatching the full workhorse role if needed, as we saw last year.

A common argument I hear in favor for Gurley is that the Rams’ star back can replicate Kamara’s role in the Saints offense while also gobbling up his team’s high leverage touches. This would be nice, but the problem is that neither Gurley’s usage last year nor the latest rhetoric out of Los Angeles give us any confidence this is the case.

Even in 2018, Gurley’s share of the passing offense was significantly smaller than other elite backs.

 
PLAYER SEAS reTRGS.Q1 ruATTS.Q1 reEP.Q1 ruEP.Q1 reTRGMS.Q1 ruATTMS.Q1
Christian McCaffrey 2018 7.8 13.7 11.1 8.6 0.23 0.53
Saquon Barkley 2018 7.6 16.3 11.1 10.3 0.21 0.74
Alvin Kamara 2018 7 12.9 11.1 8.7 0.22 0.44
Ezekiel Elliott 2018 6.3 20.3 9.7 11.1 0.2 0.74
Todd Gurley 2018 5.8 18.3 9.1 12.5 0.17 0.64
Melvin Gordon 2018 5.5 14.6 8.2 7.7 0.17 0.59
David Johnson 2018 4.8 16.1 7 9.4 0.16 0.73

There’s no indication Los Angeles wants to use Gurley in a similar role to Kamara. If he also loses rushing touches and rushing expected points to Henderson or Brown, it’s hard to see how his workload can match that of other first-round backs.

For the sake of coming to a fair valuation, let’s run some different scenarios to see what a restricted workload might look like from a projection standpoint, and what Gurley’s true upside might be.

I’ll use the following team assumptions:

  • 1,000 plays – An expected regression given the Rams’ projected win total of 10
  • 58% pass rate – A slight increase in pass percentage from the prior year, again accounting for overall team regression.

Here is my baseline projection for Gurley carving out a typical committee back role using the following assumptions:

  • 0.45 ruMS – Standard committee split of rushing workload
  • 4.7 YPC – Highest yards per carry projection in the league
  • 0.05 ruTDR – Regressed touchdown rate, but still near the top of the league
  • 0.08 TMS – Steep drop in receiving workload given workload restrictions and reports of Henderson being slotted into a heavy receiving role
  • 0.7 CR – In line with historical rates
  • 1.3 aDOT – In line with historical rates
  • 3.1 RACR – In line with historical rates
  • 0.04 reTDR – Regressed touchdown rate, but still near the top of the league

ruAtt

ruYd

ruTD

reTRG

reREC

reYD

reTD

PPR

189

888

9.5

44

31

177

1.8

205

As a committee back in a Rams offense projected at the top of the league in efficiency, Gurley has an RB2 level projection by my numbers.2

It is reasonable to expect Gurley to have upside in his rushing and target market shares beyond what is projected above, but at the same time expectations must be tempered for what that upside truly is.

An upside projection of a 15% target share (to match 2018) and 60% rushing share (slightly higher than his full-season share in 2018) yields the following:

ruAtt

ruYd

ruTD

reTRG

reREC

reYD

reTD

PPR

252

1184

12.6

82

58

332

3.3

305

It’s impossible to project Gurley for anything beyond the market shares above, and given the Rams’ words and actions it’s hard to even project these market shares seriously. Thus, it is difficult to imagine Gurley hitting the overall RB1 upside that he still gets touted with.

Remember, too, that Gurley easily has the most likely downside of any player in the first few rounds of drafts because he plays the most injury-prone position and is entering the season with a known injury that is already expected to limit his performance. No player in the first few rounds seems more likely to completely bust than Gurley is.

With a median projection of 200 PPR and an upside of 300 PPR, I’d be more comfortable taking Gurley in the fourth round, given the downside risks. Give me any player who does not already have an incurable and debilitating injury at the most dangerous position in football in the first three rounds over one that does.

Image Credit: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Todd Gurley.

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  1. An argument can be made against Chubb’s passing-game role, but the point still stands.  (back)
  2. And even these numbers might understate the true downside risk if Gurley’s knee issues are truly worse than anyone is letting on.  (back)

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