Todd Gurley’s knee is officially a big concern now, so what is the impact on his fantasy outlook this year and beyond?
Despite missing the final two games last season, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley finished as the top-scoring running back in fantasy football in standard scoring and the RB3 in full-point PPR. In each of the last two seasons, coinciding with the arrival of Sean McVay as head coach, Gurley has led the NFL in rushing touchdowns while catching 64 (2017) and 59 passes (2018).
Gurley suffered a torn left ACL during his final season at Georgia in 2014, and the same knee swelled up after Week 1 last year and the issue surfaced again in December. During the playoffs he had just 30 carries, with 16 coming in a Divisional Round win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Rams have been careful to dismiss concern about Gurley’s knee, but there’s no more hiding it. He did no work in team drills during OTAs, it’s been declared he’s unlikely to play in the preseason and there are reports he’s dealing with arthritis in the knee.
Managing Gurley’s workload during essentially meaningless practices and games is a good plan. But now there’s this, from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
The days of Todd Gurley just being the straight-up, every-down bell cow are probably over, just based on his knee, his age, the position, the amount of carries he’s had,” “It’s probably not going to be like that, which by the way is maybe why the Rams drafted a running back in the third round, someone they really like a lot. This is a team that is clearly ready to spread the ball around.
Rapoport specifically mentioned rookie third-round pick Darrell Henderson, who the Rams traded up to get. Malcolm Brown is also coming back, but in fantasy terms Henderson is the most directly impacted by Gurley’s status one way or another.
The Rams signed Gurley to a four-year, $57.5 million contract extension last summer. They are married to him for the next three seasons, before the dead money hit drops to $4.2 million ahead of the 2022 campaign. The folly of committing that kind of money to a running back, even one as young as Gurley (24, 25 on Aug. 3), especially when the Rams didn’t have to yet, is clear now.
The first hint at Gurley’s fantasy stock dropping came right after the draft in April, when McVay suggested the Rams will use more two-back formations this year. The team has used “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) almost exclusively over the last two seasons, so switching things up a little is a way to keep the offense fresh if nothing else.
Gurley’s status in the conversation to be the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts this year has taken nothing but hits over the last few months. That said, he’s still a first-round pick in 12-team standard scoring leagues right now (pick 1.09, RB8, via Fantasy Football Calculator ADP). In full-point PPR, Gurley is already edging down into second round territory (pick 2.02, RB10).
In concert with Gurley’s downward trend, Henderson’s ADP is rising. Also via Fantasy Football Calculator (12-team leagues), the rookie out of Memphis is RB33 (pick 7.01) in full-point PPR and RB37 in standard scoring (pick 8.04).
Even with the “bell cow back” an increasingly endangered species, the worst-case scenario for fantasy owners is the Rams’ backfield becoming an equal time share. But if you take away one-third of Gurley’s production last year, he still would have been a top-10 fantasy running back (top-eight, more specifically) in standard scoring and a top-10 back in full-point PPR.
In single-season leagues, Gurley is now atop the list of risk/reward draft picks this year. A drop to the second round/third round line, or into the third round and thus deeper into RB2 territory, reduces some of the risk. Even in a likely reduced role, Gurley is in line for the lion’s share of the goal line work over the smaller Henderson, which raises his fantasy floor.
In those same single-season leagues, there will be a line where Henderson is no longer a prudent pick. He’s almost there now, being drafted as a lower-end RB3 in PPR leagues, and a rise into being drafted as a high-end RB3 (approximately the fifth round in PPR) is where he’s no longer a value compared to what you might get at another position.
If you have Gurley in a dynasty league, he’s more of a hold than an automatic sell as his stock trends down right now. There is some, faint as it may be, buy-low potential in dynasty formats.
Henderson’s stock is obviously on the rise all the way around, and that includes dynasty leagues. Via Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP data, he’s currently the fourth rookie running back and the 10th rookie off the board in dynasty drafts.
A potentially degenerative, arthritic knee could shorten Gurley’s career and Henderson could be the starting running back in a good offense within the next couple seasons. But barring a season-ending issue for Gurley, the transition is not coming in 2019.
As their average draft positions move toward each other, assuming it continues, the draft day value for Gurley and Henderson will move in the inverse direction. Avoiding Gurley all together is a viable plan, but those that do take the risk will have to back it up by drafting Henderson as the handcuff. As previously suggested, there is a point where that will become bad strategy.