Last week the Rams cut Todd Gurley, less than two years after signing him to a record-setting contract extension that was theoretically supposed to keep him in Los Angeles through 2023. It didn’t take long for the Falcons, who recently cut Devonta Freeman, to scoop him up on a one-year deal. There are compelling fantasy implications on both sides of the transaction.
The Rams Backfield
The Rams probably would’ve liked to keep Gurley around but are completely hamstrung by their current financial situation. They already have huge contracts dedicated to Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey. From a real football standpoint, running backs are much more replaceable.
After releasing Gurley, the Rams are left with Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson, and John Kelly in the backfield. Brown has had the most fantasy production of the trio, while Henderson and Kelly have both been mistakenly considered high-ceiling handcuffs in past seasons. Henderson is the youngest of the bunch and has the most draft capital invested, so he could be considered the frontrunner to be the most fantasy-relevant back left on the roster. The Rams 2020 backfield will likely either feature a running-back-by-committee approach, a back that isn’t on the roster yet, or some combination of both.
Gurley and Atlanta
There’ve been studies suggesting negative experiences have a longer-lasting impact than positive; this definitely seems to be the case with Gurley in the fantasy community. He’s remembered more for disappearing with mysterious knee issues at the end of the 2018 season than for putting up back-to-back seasons as the RB1 in 2017 and 2018. He unglamorously finished as the RB14 in 2019 on a disappointing Rams offense.
So is Atlanta getting a washed-up, over the hill, running back, à la Steven Jackson in 2013? It’s an easy comparison to make since both backs joined the Falcons after successful fantasy careers with the Rams, but that’s where the similarities seem to end. When Atlanta acquired Jackson he was 29 years old, had played 131 games over nine seasons, and accumulated 2,803 touches. Gurley, on the other hand, will turn 26 in August, has played in 73 games over his five seasons, and has totaled 1,483 touches. Relatively speaking, Gurley has more tread left on the tires than Jackson did.
The Rams seemed to handle Gurley with kid gloves early in 2019 before unleashing him with a full workload. He averaged 13.1 carries per game before their Week 9 bye. That jumped to 16.4 carries per game from Week 10 on. He remained healthy during this end-of-season stretch, not missing any games and playing on at least 68% of offensive snaps in each game. He saw the field on 96% of offensive snaps in Weeks 11 and 14, a number rarely seen by running backs not named Christian McCaffrey. It added up to fantasy success as well; he ranked as the RB9 during that end-of-season stretch.
Looking forward, Gurley couldn’t have found a much better landing spot than Atlanta. The Falcons offense has been a top-ten scoring unit over the past three seasons and now has ten former first-round picks, including Gurley. Ito Smith and Brian Hill aren’t likely to join Gurley in any kind of significant backfield committee approach, giving him a clear path to the kind of involvement in a high scoring offense that typically leads to fantasy success.
The narrative that Gurley is injury-prone and washed up could sink his ADP come August, but his talent and team situation could be a recipe for him to be an RB1 and a fantasy draft value in 2020.