The transition from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay at head coach could be easily mistaken for full-blown wizardry, as the Rams offense went all the way from worst to first in scoring last year. Todd Gurley was involved in every aspect of the game — finishing second in RB receiving yards behind Alvin Kamara and following PFF’s sixth-best offensive line to seventh-best yards per attempt in the league (4.7, min. 100 carries). If you drafted Todd Gurley at his depressed second round value last preseason, you probably made playoffs on his back alone.
He was the overall highest scorer in half-PPR fantasy leagues — yes, even over the No. 1 QB, Russell Wilson — by a lot. He churned out 2,093 scrimmage yards on 279 carries and 64 receptions. He scored 19 total touchdowns.
So, heading into 2017, the looming question is simple. Can Gurley repeat as the king of fantasy football in 2018?
Little has changed for the Rams on the offensive side of the ball, outside the swap of Sammy Watkins for Brandin Cooks. They did add John Kelly, a potential three-down back out of Tennessee, in the sixth round of the draft. But they also traded away Tavon Austin, who logged 59 carries in 2017. Kelly should be little more than a change-of-pace back, and will certainly not threaten the reigning Offensive Player of the Year for any sort of damaging timeshare. And as for the top-tier offensive line, it’s fully intact heading into 2018 after all five guys started every single game last season (until Week 17 when McVay sat them in playoff prep).
Meanwhile, third-year QB Jared Goff is entering his second season in McVay’s offense, coming off a strong rebound campaign of his own, and is likely to improve chemistry with journeyman Robert Woods and sophomore Cooper Kupp. As such, I expect Goff to take another step forward in 2018. While the initial reaction might be to project Gurley downwards, simply out of less necessity, don’t be too hasty. Gurley is the engine of this offense and it will continue to run through him (pun intended). Goff’s improvement is more likely to keep the defense honest and increase scoring opportunities. While Gurley may see a few less dump-off receptions, a better overall offense is almost always good news for its running back.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams invested a lot in their defense in the offseason, forming easily one of the top on-paper units in the league. They’re going to be favored much more often than not and will likely spend the majority of games protecting a lead. While Gurley doesn’t come off the field regardless of game script, playing for a 10+ win team certainly doesn’t hurt.
Two running backs in 2017 had more touches than Todd Gurley — Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy — and McCoy only beat him out by three touches despite playing in one more game. The Rams finished ninth in rush attempts and 24th in pass attempts, after posting dismal 2016 ranks of 28th and 27th. Translation? Sean McVay, the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, quickly identified his best weapon and proceeded to design the offense around him.
And we’re not just talking about force-feeding Gurley the rock, either. Jordan Howard had 276 carries last year and finished with roughly half Gurley’s fantasy points. In his very first year as a head coach, McVay was an offensive mastermind, scheming Gurley and his entire team to maximum efficiency. Just how efficient, you ask? Well, Gurley’s 351.3 half-PPR fantasy points last year were the 17th most all time. But his 1.02 fantasy points per touch? Eighth-best in NFL history. Here’s a look at the company Gurley joined.
|Year||Rush Attempts||Receptions||Total TDs||Total Fantasy Points||Fantasy Points Per Touch|
Not bad company, to say the least. It certainly helps when you’re handed the most red-zone carries in the league (62), and especially the most goal-line carries (18 inside the 5-yard line for 9 TDs) As hyperbolic as it may sound, Gurley’s role in this system is Hall-of-Fame level elite. And the best part is, it means he can dominate in fantasy with theoretically less chance of injury or wear. By the way, just for kicks and giggles, get this. Every player on that list was 26 years of age or older in those career seasons … except one. Gurley was 23.
It’s hard to find a good reason to project the reigning fantasy champ downwards in 2018. You can’t apply the 300-carry-hangover argument, as he was short of that total in 2017. You could try to say teams will figure out how to game plan against him but, honestly, my money’s on the mind of Sean McVay and this roster of dynamite talent to win that duel. Barring injury, we’re looking at a fantasy freight train with no brakes and a head of steam. If you’re lucky enough to draw the first overall pick — in any format — Todd Gurley is as “can’t miss” as they get.