2019 Rams fantasy preview: Todd Gurley's knee is the elephant in the room
The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Finally, we’ve reached the end of the line: The Los Angeles Rams.
Man, the Los Angeles Rams were arguably the most fun team in football last season. They helped (along with the Kansas City Chiefs) to deliver what many consider the greatest regular-season game in NFL history. The Rams were top-five in most offensive categories. Sean McVay and Jared Goff continued to prove a match made in heaven. At 13-3 they ran away with the NFC West. But then things started to fall apart. Cooper Kupp got hurt. The defense couldn’t stop the run. Todd Gurley, to the shock of many, suddenly became a non-factor late in the season, and we don’t even need to bring up what happened in the Super Bowl.
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Gurley’s health — specifically, the health of his knee — is clearly the most dominant storyline in 2019 for this team, and fantasy players. A perennial first-round performer, what will the upcoming season hold?
Can Gurley regain greatness?
Discussed and debated repeatedly this offseason by fantasy pundits and fans alike, Todd Gurley and his questionable knee have communities divided. Are you #TEAMHUEVOS or #TEAMRAISINS at the running back’s current valuation in .5 PPR formats (15.7 ADP, RB10)?
BRAD: #TEAMRAISINS. Call me a coward, but invading Area 51, a secured military compound with ample “Shoot on sight!” signs posted, is not nearly as risky compared to rostering Gurley. The red flags are everywhere. Let’s follow the paper trail:
1) In April’s NFL Draft, the Rams spent the 70th overall pick to acquire Darrell Henderson, a pint-sized punisher who racked over 6.16 yards after contact per attempt with Memphis last fall. GM Les Snead even compared him to Alvin Kamara. Not to be overlooked, LAR also matched the offer sheet on restricted free agent Malcolm Brown.
2) Sean McVay said in early May he wants to feature more two-RB sets, a major departure from his track record. Last year, Los Angeles featured 11 personnel 90 percent of the time (NFL average 65%). If implemented, it’s safe to assume Henderson would receive significant run.
3) NFL Network reported in June Gurley’s bellcow days are “probably over.” Around the same time rumors began to swirl a significant downturn in snaps could be on the horizon.
4) Last month, Gurley’s trainer confirmed his client is dealing with “an arthritic component of his knee” adding he and the team were “managing that.”
5) On July 10, the RB, when asked about his much-discussed hindrance, provided a very sheepish answer: “It's good, man. It's good ... I'm just like, hey, we're going to find out in training camp, you know?" Talk about a lack of confidence.
Bottom line, there are no guarantees and ceaseless risks attached to the once unstoppable RB. Remember, he was sparingly used during THE most critical stretch of the 2018 season, benched in favor of C.J. Anderson. My biggest fear: The Rams overuse him early in the season and his knee dissolves by Week 8, rendering him ineffective or completely useless. In other words, you’re throwing away a Round 2 or even Round 3 pick if you avoid the signs. Don’t be so gullible. Avoid him at all costs.
ANDY: Well, Brad just gave you 9000 words of anti-hype, so there’s very little for me to add. I’d only link to the same stories. At this stage, a top-16 ADP for Gurley isn’t really justifiable. He carried fantasy owners into the playoffs last season, but he enters camp looking like the head of a backfield committee. In fact, there have been zero indications that he’s ready to return to last year’s every-snap featured role.
At some point in a draft, however, Gurley is going to make sense. The risk/reward equation is slightly different for everyone, but no reasonable fantasy manager should eliminate Gurley from their plans entirely. I’m open to drafting him at almost any point in Round 3, in the 25-35 range, after guys like Damien and Devonta, but ahead of Henry and Fournette. Even if Gurley is somewhat compromised physically and his workload is reduced, he’s still the presumptive No. 1 RB for a Death Star offense that averaged 32.9 points per game last season. Gurley can still reach, say, 1200 scrimmage yards and double-digit TDs in a lesser role. You can’t simply erase his name from your draft board.
PICK YOUR POISON.
Among the Rams’ receiving triumvirate, who are you targeting most: Brandin Cooks (39.5 ADP, WR17), Robert Woods (43.4, WR19) or Cooper Kupp (53.1, WR23)?
BRAD: WOODS. He’s arguably the most reliable weapon in Goff’s arsenal. A season ago, the consistency king crossed the 10-point PPR threshold in 14 of 16 games. His across-the-board efficiency, high target share (24.0 TGT% in ‘18), strength in traffic (No. 19 in contested catch rate) and craftiness after the catch (No. 9 in YAC) arrow to another WR2 output. Even if he backtracks slightly, it’s hard to imagine him dipping below a 75-1100-6 line. Among the Rams’ receiver trio, Woods deserves to be the first off the board.
LIZ: COOKS. A consummate field stretcher, we know exactly what we’re getting with Cooks. His week-to-week production may not always be consistent, but his year-to-year output remains steadfast. A top-14 fantasy asset for three consecutive campaigns, Cooks has topped 1,000 yards and managed at least four plays over forty yards every year since 2015. Since being with the Rams, he’s been the WR9 in YPT and averaged over 15 YPR in back-to-back efforts.
Additionally, his target share has stayed steady over the past two years, as he’s averaged seven looks per game in 2017 and 2018. Interestingly, it was Robert Woods’ volume that ballooned when Cooper Kupp went down last year. That also leads me to believe that it’s Woods whose looks will dip with Kupp expected to return by Week 1. Give me the consistent ceiling play even if it means having to balance out my starting roster (via a flex spot) on a weekly basis.
Is Jared Goff QB1 material?
Coming off a breakout campaign, OVER or UNDER 30.5 Goff touchdown passes this season?
ANDY: UNDER, slightly. Goff didn’t exactly deliver a quarterbacking clinic in December and January, as he passed for only seven TDs (and eight INTs) in his final eight games, playoffs included. I don’t mean to suggest that his end-of-year performance will define him moving forward, but defenses certainly flummoxed him in the closing months, limiting his downfield opportunities. Chicago’s defense embarrassed the Rams in December, and the Pats had Goff thoroughly confused in the Super Bowl.
So there are some issues for McVay and Goff to work through as this team enters camp. The league figured a few things out as the 2018 season unfolded. LA’s offense remains loaded and the team’s receiving corps is excellent, particularly when Cooper Kupp is right. Still, 31 touchdowns is no simple feat; only eight NFL quarterbacks reached the mark last season. I like Goff to produce a solid-yet-unspectacular 4300 yards and 28 TDs.
LIZ: UNDER. Did you watch the last five weeks of the regular season? Did you happen to take in the Super Bowl? Sure, Goff has some mighty weapons and a head coach with savant-like vision, but defenses got all up in the Cali Kid’s head down the stretch last year. Goff is not good under pressure, as evidenced by not just the tape, but a pressured completion percentage of 31.3 (QB25). Adjustments need to be made.
Of course, having the security blanket that is Cooper Kupp (maybe even making Gerald Everrett more of a focal point) will help. But only eight signal callers cleared the above line in 2018. Goff just isn’t there yet. He’ll come close, maybe even hit 30 scores, but with a red zone completion percentage of 58.4 (QB23) and enough tells to tip off opposing defenses, he feels more like a borderline QB1/QB2 than a bonafide top-ten option.
Best Ball Bargain Bin
BRAD : JOSH REYNOLDS (271.9 ADP, WR91). When thrust into a larger role post-Kupp ACL meltdown, he proved occasionally employable. From Weeks 5-17 he netted 3.23 fantasy points per touch, No. 20 among wide receivers. If any one of the big three falls ahead of him, the versatile wideout would immediately command FLEX interest in 12-team leagues.
ANDY: As Brad mentioned in his Gurley manifesto above, DARRELL HENDERSON is a talented back who’s likely to play a significant role moving forward. Henderson’s collegiate numbers were silly. He ran for 1909 yards on just 214 carries last season, the second straight year in which he averaged 8.9(!) yards per carry. He’s a home run hitter who isn’t going to lead the Rams’ backfield in touches, but will surely produce 4-6 useful fantasy lines.
Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook). LA Rams 10.5 wins OVER (+125) or UNDER (-150)
LIZ: UNDER. Could it happen? Sure. Do I want to wager money on it? No way. The NFC West is rife with question marks and unlocked potential. A Rams regression feels extremely likely.
BRAD: UNDER. The Rams do own the eighth-easiest schedule according to projected Vegas win totals, but in an ascending division, it’s tough to see 11 wins. Swig the juice (Bet $150 to win $100).
More Fantasy Team Previews
AFC East: Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
NFC East: Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Washington
AFC South: Colts | Texans | Jaguars | Titans
NFC South: Buccaneers | Saints | Panthers | Falcons
AFC North: Bengals | Steelers | Ravens | Browns
NFC North: Lions | Vikings | Packers | Bears
AFC West: Chiefs | Chargers | Raiders | Broncos
NFC West: Rams | Cardinals | 49ers | Seahawks
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