Going Deep: The Potential Workload Management For Todd Gurley

Caio Miari explains the new scenario faced by the Los Angeles Rams with Todd Gurley in 2019 and how that can impact the fantasy leagues.

Todd Gurley’s knee issues became a topic once again in the final months of the 2018 season. The running back missed two games during the regular season and wasn’t able to contribute as expected during the Los Angeles Rams’ playoff run. That cost a lot of points in crucial games for some fantasy owners. 

The Rams kept the 24-year-old running back off the field during OTAs and minicamp. While that doesn’t mean he is missing part of the Training Camp, it may be a sign of what the fantasy owners should keep in mind when the draft comes. 

Although age is not a concern for the running back at this point and Sean McVay has said that Gurley will continue to be a central point of his offense, the Rams might try to protect one of the best players in the NFL. After all, they have to do everything they can to keep Gurley’s health through all the season long. 

But what should the fantasy owners expect from Gurley in 2019?

 

His Stats Are Remarkable

 

Before getting into more details about Gurley’s role in 2019, we better remember how amazing he has been in fantasy leagues in the past seasons.  

Here’s the running back’s career resume for standard leagues: 

Year Total Points Positional Ranking
2015 189 5th
2016 155 20th
2017 319 1st
2018 313 1st

As a rookie, Gurley was the fifth-best fantasy running back in the NFL, despite missing three games. 

In 2016, we all remember what happened: Under coach Jeff Fisher, the entire Rams’ offense struggled, scoring just 14 points per week.

One year later, McVay became the head coach, and things changed completely.

From the worst offense in the league, the Rams posted almost 30 points per game. Gurley himself became the best fantasy football player — One of the all-time best, by the way. 

He not only finished with the most points in the past two seasons among running backs, but he has averaged 1,962 total yards and 20 touchdowns per season — or more than 21 fantasy points per game — under McVay’s command.

Gurley’s 16.81 points-per-game career average after 58 games (976 total points) ranks ninth all-time among fantasy running backs in the first four pro seasons.

Even more impressive: Almost 65 percent of those fantasy points came within the past two seasons.

Besides that, he also averaged 329 touches and six yards per touch since 2017, league’s best among players with at least 600 touches in that span.

Ironically, once we’re talking about the running back position, that amount of touches is what brings the main question mark regarding him for the 2019 season. 

 

Why Gurley May Not Be A #1 Pick

 

Gurley had arthritis in his left knee in the final month of last year’s regular season. That’s the same knee he torn his ACL while in college football. 

Even though Gurley insists he’s not injured and his knee issues are “a small thing,” the Rams don’t want to have their best offensive player limited in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

That’s why Los Angeles might look to implement workload management for the running back. 

How are they going to do that?

Adjusting the pass offense is always an option for McVay, who will have WR Cooper Kupp back after tearing his ACL in 2018. The head coach, too, can stop using Gurley as a three-down back, and try to find answers rushing the football with different players instead.

During the offseason, Los Angeles matched the Detroit Lions’ offer for RB Malcolm Brown, who has been with the franchise since 2015. 

Also, the team traded up in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft to select running back Darrell Henderson. Henderson had an impressive final college season for Memphis (2,204 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns), where he was mainly behind a zone-blocking system, a common thing for McVay in L. A. For the record, Henderson player to keep an eye on once the season kicks off. 

Don’t be surprised if Brown, who had 48 touches in 12 games in 2018, sees an increase in his workload this season. And it would not be a surprise, either, if Henderson posts a significant amount of touches for a rookie once he can contribute in the passing game as well.

But how does all of that translate to Gurley’s production on the field?

In two regular-season games last year (the two Gurley didn’t play), reliever runner C. J. Anderson averaged 23.5 touches per game — That’s even more than Gurley’s 22.5 through 14 games. In the red zone, where Gurley is even more valuable, Anderson also had solid participation.  

Here’s a breakdown of how many times per week each Rams’ running back had a chance to score (rushing att. or target in the red zone) last season:

RBs/Weeks 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12* 13 14 15 16 17 Total
Todd Gurley 7 11 3 5 14 8 8 4 3 4 3 7 1 5 83
C. J. Anderson 4 8 12
Malcolm Brown 0 5 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 1 0 9
John Kelly 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1

*BYE week

Out of the 105 “chances to score” that the running backs had in 2018, 83 of them were assigned to Gurley, who missed two games. As pointed out, Anderson’s 12 scoring opportunities in Weeks 16 and 17 combined were the most by a Rams’ player (including wide receivers and tight ends) in a two-week span since Gurley’s 16 in Weeks 6 and 7.

With Anderson now in Detroit and Gurley’s knee questions on the horizon, the Rams have to think how they are going to split all that workload. A good exercise is to imagine how Anderson’s participation would be converted if Gurley wasn’t injured in December and the Rams never needed the former Denver Bronco.

Instead of giving 20 or so for Gurley, two for Brown, and perhaps one extra for a wide receiver, a realistic new scenario for next season seems 15 touches for Gurley, five for Henderson, two for Brown, and a couple for the receiving corps.

Therefore, the worst narrative would be good for approximately 250 carries, 50 receptions, and 1,700 total yards, plus all the touchdowns, in the season for Gurley if he maintains his career averages.

Of course, if things don’t work as expected during a game, Gurley gets more attention. And the same will happen when L.A. gets to red zone territory. Remember that to have Gurley healthy in January, the Rams first have to make sure they will be in a good position prior to the playoffs. And the running back has been “everything” for this offense, especially when it comes down to the red zone. 

He led the NFL in rushing attempts inside the opponents’ 20 (64 carries), 10 (36), and 5-yard line (18) last year. It represents 64.6, 70.6, and 72 percent of the team total red zone rushing attempts, respectively.

It’s tempting to give the ball to Gurley all season long. Even more when the field gets shorter in the opponents’ territory. But the pursuit for another possible Super Bowl run (this time with the running back on the field for unlimited time) should be stronger than another year with an MVP candidate on the roster, and that’s when the potential workload management becomes part of the game.

The questions regarding whether Gurley should get 25 or 18 touches per game make sense for both the Rams, who will try to have their RB in his best form when January comes, and the fantasy owners, who might have to change who is their almost-unanimous first overall pick.

Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

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