Todd Gurley's Fantasy Value with Falcons in 2020 - Roto Street Journal
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Todd Gurley’s Fantasy Value with Falcons in 2020

Not even 24 hours after Todd Gurley‘s shocking release, the (former?) stud back lands with the Atlanta Falcons. At this stage of the offseason, Atlanta is an ideal spot for Gurley’s 2020 Fantasy Value, with plentiful volume inside an explosive offense. The one-year deal only sweetens the pot.

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Positives:

1) Available Volume: Outside of maybe the Buccaneers, Gurley could not have asked for a more open backfield for “Usage.” Following Devonta Freeman‘s release, the Falcons rank fifth in available carries (190, 52.4%); Atlanta also tops the league in Available Targets (261), with Freeman’s 70 and Austin Hooper‘s 97 the largest vacated slices.

Thankfully, Gurley remains an elite pass-catcher who can and will shoulder much of this short-to-intermediate receiving work.

2) The Contract: Plus, considering the short-term “rental” nature of this contract, Gurley could be ridden into the ground. He’s fresh off the fewest touches per game of his career (16.9), as Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson ate into his work at random. Had he remained in LA, Gurley’s weekly workload would have remained in constant question, as the Rams attempted to “preserve” their horse.

Atlanta has minimal incentive to do the same. They should be willing and ready to force-feed Gurley, who hadn’t dipped below 315 totes or 20 touches per game in three seasons. Who else do they even have to share with? None of Ito Smith, Brian Hill, and Qadree Ollison resembled decency in their brief 2019 spells.

At minimum, the never-ending tension and uncertainty with the Rams should at least be cleared with this fresh start.

3) Surrounding Talent Boosts: Even in a down 2019, Gurley remained an elite finisher, notching 14 total TDs.  He is averaging 18 TDs per season the last three years, and should be in line for another 12+ scores in Atlanta’s high-powered attack.

Although Atlanta’s line is nothing special (24th in PFF’s end of year rankings), the Rams ranked second-to-last. Chris Harris astutely broke down how awful line play tanked this zone-run scheme:

 

Simply put: there was nowhere for the line grade to go but up. Plus, Atlanta did invest two first round picks into their line last offseason, and are the only line that features five first rounders. The talent is there. Perhaps a year of development could send this line soaring, akin to the Titans just a few years back.

Negatives

1) Scheme: OC Dirk Koetter and his pass-happy ways may appear to be a negative for Gurley’s 2020 value. After all, last year the Falcons ranked first in pass attempts per game (45.9) and 29th in runs (22.6). Moreover, outside of 2015 (when Koetter revived Doug Martin for a shocking 1673 yard, 7 TD campaign), Ole Dirk hasn’t featured a viable fantasy threat since 2011.

But with backfields featuring Steven Jackson‘s corpse and a Muscle-less Hamster as the top options, what could be expected?

Contrastingly, Koetter’s early career track-record is sneakily run-heavy, as he was the Jaguars OC behind bowling-ball Maurice Jones-Drew‘s early career success. Three of these four teams ranked in the top-five in rushing attempts, and MJD strung together four-straight RB1 campaigns that featured heavy receiving and GL usage (including a 1900 total yard, 11 TD masterpiece in Koetter’s last season):

Still, it’s been nearly a decade since these MJD glory days, or really any kind of RB relevance under Koetter. A healthy Gurley is fully capable of rivaling those lofty stats with similar usage.

But that brings us to perhaps the greatest concern:

2) Health

Even if the Falcons decide to ride their one-year rental for all he’s worth: can Gurley handle it?

His career 21+ touches per game suggests yes. Yet, his arthritic knee, and the Rams concerning usage of him last year, are definite Red Flags. Gurley’s only 25, but his tape definitely appeared a bit more… sluggish… in 2019.

Right until the very end of 2018, Gurley was en route to his second straight MVP-worthy campaign. Just like 2017, Gurley was once again the top-scoring RB in fantasy — the first time since 2003 a runner accomplished this back-to-back feat.

Then, on Dec. 16th, against the Philadelphia Eagles, something happened to Gurley’s left knee. We still aren’t fully sure, given how vague McVay and their training staff have been.

But in 19 games since, Gurley has topped 100 rushing yards just once. He’s lost work to fat CJ Anderson and no-name Malcolm Brown.  He had career-low numbers in carries (223), yards (857), yards per attempt (3.8) and total yards from scrimmage (1,064).

Worst, his knee is reportedly in rough shape. According to an admittedly vague Athletic article, Gurley’s knee injury is still “very bad.

““Once a player has an arthritic condition, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s different for every person. You’re sort of playing Russian roulette because you never know how fast it will accelerate.”

Granted, this source doesn’t elaborate much on Gurley specifically, only the concerns with an arthritic player. Still, if 2019 was an indication, the bullet isn’t in a chamber too far away.

Hall of Famer Terrell Davis doubts we ever see the same Gurley again. Davis’ career was derailed by knee injuries and subsequent arthritis. He tore his ACL and MCL four games into 1999, and then fell out of the league only three years after winning NFL MVP in 1998, admitting he “was never the same.” He expects the same for Gurley:

“What happens is you feel like your knee—like you have just enough swelling in your knee, just enough, to where it doesn’t stop you from running, but you don’t have the full flexibility or mobility and you just feel like you’re just a second slower… When you think about making a cut, it’s like the signal from your brain to your knee is like, it just comes just a fraction of a second too slow where your knee doesn’t respond to it. And, that’s what was happening for me.”

Indeed, Gurley is not Davis, and he’s far younger than the former Bronco RB was at that point in his career. Still, with a string of exciting, young RB classes adding newfound depth to the fantasy RB pool, it’s totally justifiable to pass on the health risk of Gurley.

Summary

Ultimately, Gurley’s unlikely to cost more than a late second, early third pick in fantasy. Though I’d currently side with younger rising backs, such as Miles Sanders or Devin Singletary, Gurley brings huge upside, especially in the TD department, right after.

With fewer volume questions, a better line, and a potentially more explosive offense, Gurley’s set up for a nice rebound at a very reasonable price. Still, the knee will always cause questions, as will Koetter’s pass-obsessed scheme. Unless he slips into the middle of Round 3, I’m unlikely to own much Gurley in 2020, even if he’s set up well — much better than if he had remained in LA — to make me regret this.

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