With 2020 feeling like it has been 14 months long already, it was actually only two seasons ago that Todd Gurley was the number one running back in all of fantasy football. After a big payday led to an underwhelming season and an offseason move to the Atlanta Falcons, Gurley is a borderline fantasy afterthought. My how things change quickly in this game of a game we play.
But is it really out of the realm of possibilities that Gurley returns to fantasy stardom? Could he rise like a Phoenix in a Falcons jersey? Or has the fantasy community got it right and he is a better than average running back who is apt to lose time to injuries?
Well, as the person who drafted Gurley ahead of everyone else in the Scott Fish Bowl this year,
I felt like I needed to jump in here and let the world know – Gurley is the secret to fantasy football success in 2020.
Gurley’s 2019 season wasn’t as bad as you think
After Gurley hoisted your fantasy football roster onto his shoulders and singlehandedly carried you (or a rival) into the fantasy championships in 2018, last year felt like a let down to all the fantasy GM’s that rostered him. Statistically speaking, his 857 rushing yards, 207 receiving yards, and 14 total touchdowns were 767 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns less, so it’s understandable to have felt that way.
One thing that can’t be discounted, however, is the fact that the entire Los Angeles Rams offense struggled. The team as a whole went from the second highest-scoring team in the league in 2018, to 11th (thanks to getting close to back on track the second half of the year).
The offensive line, which was a strength for the team in 2018, suddenly became a weakness. In 2018, the Rams offensive line ranked first in adjusted line yards, but in 2019, they plummeted down to 19th. On top of that, Gurley faced eight or more defenders in the box 24.22% of his touches, the 15th most in the league.
With Goff and company struggling overall, and the seemingly random unwillingness to pass the ball to him any longer, it’s no real wonder he slipped in the end of year rankings in fantasy football. However, if we look past the box score you can see that Gurley still performed at an admirable level.
Fantasy Points Differential
Whereas Gurley’s total points might have been a let down to the fantasy GM that rostered him, he still finished with 20.4 fantasy points above expectation, or a positive 10% FPD. That was good enough for RB18 in this metric.
With passing targets being more valuable than rushing attempts, it’s clear that Gurley’s 32 fewer targets in 2019 led to fewer opportunities to rack up fantasy points. But he was still more efficient with the touches he received than one would expect. If his targets go up in Atlanta then his production should as well (more on this shortly).
While it did drop precipitously, his Consistency Score (CS) of 5.21 was still good enough to have him ranked 16th among all running backs. The main reason it wasn’t at the same heights as the year prior is that he just didn’t carry the same ceiling level in 2019. The max points scored in any given week in 2019 was 22.5, compared to 35.5 from the year prior.
Gurley still had six out of 15 games as a top-10 option and a top-24 running back in 86% of games played. This meant he finished outside the top 24 in only two games played all season. Gurley might not have carried your team the way he did the year prior, but he by no means tanked it.
Todd Gurley + Atlanta Falcons = Fantasy Crush
When the news broke that Gurley was moving on to Atlanta I knew he was immediately back in my crosshairs for this season’s fantasy football drafts. Whereas the Rams clearly showed they wanted to move away from Gurley as the season progressed, the Falcons showed they desperately missed having a running back that was capable. It was also one of the best fantasy football landing spots we could hope for.
The Falcons as a whole have 258 vacated targets available. Since 2015, Matt Ryan has averaged 90 targets to the RB position as a whole and 69% of those have gone to the RB1 on the team. This would pencil in 62 targets for Gurley as a baseline. However, we have seen spikes of 100+ to the position, which could vault Gurley’s target volume back into the elite status.
Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter also greatly favors a one running back approach versus committee. Since 2012, the last time Koetter was OC for Atlanta, Koetter’s perceived RB1 for fantasy has averaged 248 total touches compared to 119 to the RB2. With the likes of Ito Smith and Brian Hill behind him, I see no real competition for touches on the roster.
Furthermore, while his workload decreased last year with the Rams, Atlanta has no reason to limit Gurley at all. As noted above, there isn’t steep competition at the position. The play-callers like to use a three-down back, and the Falcons aren’t tethered to a long-term deal.
Gurley signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract and will again be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. Atlanta has every incentive to use Gurley to his full extent and see where the cards lie next offseason. All the while, Gurley has every reason to play for his next payday.
Todd Gurley’s Fantasy ADP
Best yet, Gurley’s ADP is currently making him a value in fantasy. On average, you can find him still sitting there in the third round of drafts, and he is being taken as the 15th running back on average.
So you don’t have to be like me, and draft him with your first overall pick. You can make Gurley your second or even third running back on draft day, stacking an incredible advantage at the position. Or if you fancy receivers early, you can still take an RB1 who has proven overall number one upside after loading up on receivers.
The overall fact that he isn’t being prioritized as a top pick in fantasy any longer means you can be flexible at the draft. Adapt your strategy to how the rest of the picks play out, all the while having a clear target in Gurley to ensure you have a strong RB anchor. Whatever draft strategy you end up adopting, targeting Gurley is the secret weapon to ensuring a strong draft and fantasy success.
Phillip Caldwell is a fantasy analyst for Pro Football Network and can be found on Twitter @DumpsterDiveFF.