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Rewind: The Dynasty-Fantasy Value Todd Gurley in 2017

September 2, 2017 6:08 PM
June 14, 2017 12:00 PM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

I just re-watched Todd Gurley’s 2016 season, well…I picked and chose spots/full games to watch from last season. I saw the same guy over and over on tape, so at some point there was no need to watch every snap/touch. After watching Gurley’s 2016, and then dipping back into 2014 (Georgia) for more context…I have to tell you – I’m a little forlorn.

I keep looking for and assuming 2012–2014 college Todd Gurley is looming and Jeff Fisher/a bad O-Line did him in for 2016. There’s a lot of truth to that, but there’s also Todd Gurley’s culpability…something I have overlooked, but a light needs to be shone on it.

It sounds like, from the first two paragraphs, I’m about to drop a bomb on you with Gurley. I’m not…not really. I am shifting my position a little, however. I have been buying and selling and hyping Gurley like he was an ‘A+/A’ asset…he might be more of an ‘A-/B+’ for reasons I’ll get into. ‘Star’ is within reach, both for the NFL and for fantasy…but his proximity to being ‘close to the same talent as David Johnson‘ – that statement is a farce…and I’ve said it/typed it more than once this year. I’m not as likely to toss that label around anymore.

For those of you that closely monitored Gurley last season with any type of live watching or study/viewing after the fact…or if you had him on a fantasy team or thought of acquiring him and/or were just passionate Rams’ fans – would you take a second to visualize a Todd Gurley run from 2016… (pause)

It should be easy to conjure up an image because it was the same exact ‘thing’ every carry…same thing back to 2015 if you watch both NFL years, even when he had the spurts of success in 2015…same thing back to Georgia, just a different landscape to work against and much more success. The NFL/Rams’ Gurley running play/outcome you saw over and over and over and over and over was him taking the handoff between the tackles and getting somewhere between -1 and 4 yards on every single run (it seemed).

I’m not joking on the -1 to +4 yard runs. Gurley averaged 3.2 yards per carry in 2016. 81% of Gurley’s run plays went for four yards or less. His longest run of 2016…24 yards.

Did you ever wonder how Todd Gurley could be so talented and yet run to nowhere over and over and over and over again in 2016 (and late 2015)? No 100+ yard games last season. Couldn’t he like get lucky once or twice…maybe, make a slick move and pop a long run or take advantage of a bad run defense? Nope…same play over and over and over and over. I think it is because Todd Gurley is not who we think he is.

…and it doesn’t mean he’s not good…or great. Just different. Maybe, it’s me…and I’m late to the party.

Here’s what I see over and over and over and over with Gurley. He takes his handoff. He bursts to the hole where the play is called…and 99% of the time there will be no real change of direction or vision/instinct/searching by Gurley. He is almost always putting his head down and going where that play was designed and he’s not changing. It’s not out of spite – it’s the runner style he is. Gurley’s not David Johnson, who can change directions on a dime and will kick congested up-the-middle runs to the outside and just stiff-arm you or outsprint you to paydirt (over and over and over…). Gurley’s not Jordan Howard…a patient/’wait for it’…see-the-space-and-go kind of runner. Le’Veon Bell is constantly delaying and then popping, changing course as needed…almost like he’s bouncing on a trampoline as he runs amok. Gurley almost never kicks a run to the outside or is making amazing jump cut moves. He almost never hesitates at the line (unless defenders have penetrated the backfield before he takes his first step). He’s a straight forward runner.

You know who Todd Gurley is – he’s a really fast Marshawn Lynch.

Todd Gurley likes contact. He doesn’t shy from it – he heads towards it. When Gurley gets some space but sees a crowd ahead he seems to pick a defender and runs at them and tries to barrel them over. If you’re in his way he will try to run you over to whatever avail. If there is a wide-open hole…he’s gone. I could say that, and have said that, about a lot of runners. Jeremy Hill comes to mind as a blind/straight-ahead runner…going as far as blocking takes him. Ezekiel Elliott has a lot of that in him. There is big NFL success in that…especially with Gurley’s (and Elliott’s) speed and size. A fast Marshawn Lynch could be a Hall of Fame threat, but to be clear — Gurley’s not David Johnson…or Le’Veon Bell…or LeSean McCoy. I could go on with a few more. Gurley is more of a one trick pony as a runner…but it’s a solid trick and an even better pony – tough/physical and ultra-fast with size. But it’s not magical. It’s not David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell in-waiting. Gurley is a different style.

So what? Who cares about style? You respect Marshawn Lynch, so a faster version is awesome…right? I agree these attributes have value. But there’s a small problem…actually two: (1) Lynch had better instincts and shiftiness in the trenches, but that’s nitpicking. (2) You need holes to be opened for this style to work/flourish. Thus, enters the Rams’ O-Line problems into the equation.

Carlos Hyde is a very underrated runner. He’s been great on some of the worst offenses in the NFL the past two years. I mean, Hyde does it all. For as bad as his team has been the past two seasons, and as much as teams keyed on Hyde…he ran for 4.0+ yards per carry (4.6 with that mess from 2016). Hyde will kick runs outside and make magic happen where it looked like there was no gain. Gurley does NOT do that. Gurley’s magical potion is – give him any hole and he’ll be gone. Hit him from the side in the open field and he will shrug it off and keep accelerating. Give him a little space and he will push a pile nicely. Give him no space and you have 2016 all over again.

All that to say – Gurley is tied a lot more to the quality of the O-Line and QB play than I wanted to believe prior. Once he hits the second level he’s terrific – blazing straight-line speed, great balance/power, and 220+ pounds. Very hard to stop or catch up to in the open field…he just has to get to the open field…with help from the O-Line because he does not create opportunity on his own. If Gurley was on the Cowboys in 2016…he might have broken the single-season rushing record in the NFL – he’s that much of a stallion on the second level.

I went back and watched some of Gurley’s Georgia tapes again…same guy. Straight forward and physical. Only, in college it’s masked by wide open holes and Gurley being so much bigger/faster than everyone – he made it look like child’s play. You have to spring Gurley past the line in order to get to the ‘happy ending’. He’s not a creator on his own.

It’s a long way to say…Gurley is at the mercy of the Rams O-Line, again. He’s more tied to the O-Line and QB, performance-wise, than other top runners might be. I mean, everyone needs/wants great blocking…but some guys have other gifts to deal with congested holes. Gurley does not. He prefers running into traffic and if no space, he’ll put his head down and plow for a yard or two (see almost every run of his in 2016). NFL coaches like that style, but it also leans heavy on the O-Line and the QB play for fantasy output.

How ready are you to trust the Rams O-Line and Jared Goff? The answer means a lot on how to play Gurley in FF 2017.

Are you hoping Gurley is David Johnson-like? I’m not so sure he is. I thought they were more similar, but after re-watching three years of activity, I believe that Gurley is very good but in a different way than DJ (or Le’Veon Bell). Gurley is a different style runner. Not as dynamic…more willing to trudge for yards up the middle. Not as exciting as I thought he was – until he gets past the line of scrimmage. And if that’s the case, I’m a little worried betting ultra-heavy on Gurley…knowing how easily he can be neutralized. You saw 2016…it’s indisputable that Gurley can be corralled. I don’t think David Johnson is as ‘corral-able’. I like the direction of the Rams under Sean McVay, but that’s only speculation as to what degree it propels Gurley in 2017.

I believe in Gurley as a top five fantasy RB, but my belief is a little more subdued than it was 48 hours ago. I think I am taking the ‘+’ off my ‘A+’ label of him. That may seem insignificant, but planning for dynasty long-term…I’m not as giddy trying to strip Gurley in a deal as I was before. I’m seeing more of the worry than I was before…and that’s what we do in fantasy – worry about everything.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>