Let’s be honest, in dynasty no one wants Todd Gurley. Who would’ve thought that it was possible to go from consecutive 1st overall RB performances, to getting released from his team and being a player fantasy owners intentionally avoid in the span of a few short years? Does this mean he is on his way out of Fantasy relevance completely or does it mean there is value to be had? Former rushing champ, and current NFL analyst Maurice Jones-Drew (MJD) certainly thinks he has value. After Gurley signed with Atlanta, MJD reflected on his own days with Dirk Koetter and predicted Gurley to finish with 280 total touches, 1200 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards, and 19 touchdowns. If Gurley has at least 12 receptions, this stat line would have put him as the RB2 overall last season in half point per reception (.5PPR) leagues. While he believes he has at least one elite season left, others view him as an “injury prone” back who lost a step, and is trying to salvage his career on a new team. What’s amazing is that somehow both seem equally realistic. In this article I intend to display recent statistics to provide an accurate depiction of the Gurley situation, providing information to create your own opinion of his value.
Todd Jerome Gurley II
At the end of last season, in the heat of the Gurley injury crisis, I wrote an article describing how he could be the perfect win now trade target. In that article I describe how arthritis is linked to workload and its effect on a player’s ability. Gurley may not have proved to be the championship winning piece I hoped for, but he did finish the RB14 last season while playing nearly a full season (15 games). He put up 857yds on 223 attempts alongside 12TD’s on the ground, and 31 receptions for 207yds and 2TD’s through the air. This stat line is solid, but a clear step back from his previous two years. In 2019, he had his lowest yards per carry (3.8) since 2016 by a wide margin, finishing his previous two seasons with 4.7 and 4.9 ypc respectively. Looking at the team around him, It is no surprise his efficiency decreased as the Rams as an offensive unit regressed from consecutive top 2 finishes in points scored per game to finishing outside the top 10 last season. This was largely due to their offensive line play. Pro Football Focus ranked their line 31st in the league, only ahead of the Dolphins and behind the Bengals. In my previous articles (Josh Jacobs, Leonard Fournette, Devin Singletary) I have used yards before contact to help display offensive line play. In Gurley’s situation he finished with a lackluster 2.2 yards before contact (22nd among running backs). Although Pro Football Focus rated the Falcons O line as 24th last season, any increase in O line play could really benefit Gurley’s rushing efficiency.
Gurley displayed his continued ability to break tackles, finishing the season 13th among running backs (1 per 10.6 attempts). Thirteen may be a decent finish, but this is not where we are used to seeing a big name like his. Making the decreased production even more relevant was his yards after contact (1.7) placing him 41st among running backs. Yes, 41st, tied with the likes of Latavius Murray and Peyton Barber. Gurleys’s efficiency clearly took a hit last season, and so did his usage. It was common knowledge that Gurley was on a snap count to begin the year as an attempt to keep him healthy. He finished 17th in total rushing attempts and 16th in attempts per game (14.9), average for a starting running back in the league. Unfortunately you don’t own Gurley to be average in any statistic. Thankfully Sean McVay gave him more work at the end of the year, giving a glimpse of what an increased workload could look like. In the final 6 games of the season Gurley remained healthy while receiving 19.6 touches a game. Over the season, 19.6 touches per game would have placed him 10th at the running back position. More importantly, he stayed healthy during those 6 weeks.
A New 21 is in Georgia
The good news about the Falcons maintaining their coaching staff might be that it presents a more accurate carryover for statistical analysis. The bad news is that the Falcons have finished 30th in rushing attempts per game each of the previous two seasons. To make matters worse, the backfield has been running as some form of a committee for years now. However, as he is replacing the oft injured Devonta Freeman, this committee approach may give us a more accurate look into how they will manage Gurley’s workload this upcoming season. Last season Freeman finished with 184 rushing attempts and 70 targets, a target total placing him 10th at the running back position. To put this in perspective, the Rams finished 31st in the league with a grand total of 61 targets to running backs. Given the nature of his contract, it is hard to imagine Atlanta not giving him a similar workload to what the Rams did last season. However, knowing how prolific Gurley can be in the passing game, this change of scenery may be fantastic news from a fantasy perspective.
Gurley has always had a nose for the end zone. Last season he scored 30% of the Rams’ touchdowns, and since entering the NFL he has averaged 0.96 touchdowns per game. That’s 70 touchdowns in 73 games. Touchdowns have saved Gurley’s fantasy value in the past, and might do the same in Atlanta. In the last three seasons the Falcons have given their running backs 51, 48, and 52 percent of the team’s looks in the red zone respectively (incorporates targets and rushing attempts for all positions). Of the 52% last season, Freeman saw 45% of these which should leave Gurley with a pretty good fantasy floor. Last season, Freeman received more red zone looks than any other individual player on the team with 33 (2nd was Hooper with 18). The Falcons gave Freeman a 12.8% target share inside the 20 and a 15.6% target share inside the 10 (7th highest for running backs in the league). To put this in perspective, Gurley only saw 6% of targets inside the 20, and 2.9% inside the 10 with the Rams last season. Overall, this displays that the Falcons use of their backs close to the goal line both on the ground and in the air, playing to Gurley’s strengths.
What to Expect
As much as I respect MJD, I’m not going to come out here and say Gurley puts up 1700 total yards, 19 touchdowns, and finishes the season as the RB2. However, I will say that I don’t think his touchdown prediction is too unrealistic. The Falcons are known to be a prolific offense that uses their backs in the red zone, and Gurley is the perfect back for that. Although his overall efficiency decreased last season, he managed to maintain his touchdown prowess, scoring 30% of the Ram’s total touchdowns. Gurley is still one of the best red zone backs in the league, the biggest question for the dynasty community is injury risk. Thankfully Gurley displayed his ability to remain healthy last season, with a workload very similar to the Falcons’ usage of Freeman. At the age of 25 if Gurley can stay healthy (and I think he will), I believe he will be a very productive back for the Falcons with high touchdown upside for his current 1 year deal (and in my opinion the years following as well). Gurley seems to be a great fit for Dirk Koetter’s offense and if I had to predict a statline I would say ~200 rushing attempts for 850 yds (4.3 per carry), 50 receptions for 350yds, and 14 total touchdowns. Although there is risk, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Todd Jerome Gurley II may be the perfect win now RB2 with his low price, astronomically high touchdown upside and his history of elite RB1 production.