Rams pressing fantasy questions: Todd Gurley has fantasy owners thinking twice

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3-Point Stance: Things are less than rosy in LaLa Land
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As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Wednesday’s topic: The Los Angeles Rams.

Unicorn Frappuccinos, Hoverboards, and male rompers… all things that came and went faster than Toddy Gurley’s stud status. Looking ahead to the fall, will the former Bulldog close out 2017 OVER or UNDER RB18.5 overall?

Liz – UNDER. The burn factor with Gurley is huge. And I get it. Drafted by many in the first third of the first round last summer, the workhorse gut punched the ROI (rather than opposing defenders). BUT he was still a WORKHORSE. And in 2017, when nearly every backfield is a platoon, that matters. Racking up 278 totes, Gurley carried the rock nearly 18 times per game, which ranked him among the top-five for that statistical category. Every single back that finished among the top-ten in terms of carries put up numbers good enough to keep them above the top-twenty overall producers at the position. Gurley was RB19.

There’s no denying Gurley’s lack of efficiency in 2016. But he was running behind a run-blocking unit that Football Outsiders ranked among the bottom four. That should improve with the addition of All-Pro LT Andrew Whitworth. In addition, the team is heading into this season with Jared Goff as their starter. I’m not saying he’ll scare defenses, but at least he has the summer to prepare, and the offense will have some consistency under center. Finally, Sean McVay has gotten much more out of backs with much less talent.

Barring injury, it’s unlikely that Gurley will preform worse this year than he did last. I have him ranked as my RB12 overall (standard scoring). Don’t let last year’s numbers cause an overcorrection. A young and capable starter in a system that’s going to have to sit on the ball, Gurley offers high-end RB2 appeal.

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Brad – OVER. Gurley should be viewed with the same disdain as lacy men’s clothing (Yes, it exists. And whoever finishes last in your league is required to wear one.) Apologists will point to Jeff Fisher, the offensive line, Jared Goff and the general atrocious atmosphere for why he slipped into the fantasy abyss in 2016. All are valid reasons, but Gurley isn’t blameless. Advanced analytics paint a wretched picture. He averaged just 2.9 evaded tackles per game (RB44), ranked No. 68 in juke rate and No. 61 in yards after contact per touch. Most appallingly, though he saw less than seven defenders in the box 44.2 percent of the time, he managed only 3.4 yards per carry in those situations. Let that soak in.

Sean McVay is a brilliant football mind and rising star, but the mountain to climb to make the Rams offense respectable is steep. Proving Bigfoot’s existence is an easier task (No, “Harry and the Hendersons” doesn’t count). Gurley is cemented as the early-down/short-yardage back, but his reported pass-game reduction only adds to the overvaluation (21.3 ADP, RB10). I doubt he penetrates the position’s top-20. Too bearish? Follow the facts.

PICK YOUR POISON: Newly added Robert Woods, bounce-back candidate Tavon Austin or WILDCARD?

Brad – WILDCARD – COOPER KUPP.  I’ll chase the shiny new toy over a pair of rusted windup cars. Austin is coming off wrist surgery and averaged a vomit-inducing 4.8 yards per target last year. Woods, meanwhile, never eclipsed 6.3 fantasy points per game in his previous four-year stint with Buffalo.

Kupp is a divisive figure among fantasy minds. Those who adhere to athletic metrics believe he’s a stiff with minimal upside who will fail miserably in his transition from Eastern Washington. The learning curve may be wide, but the kid is a strong route runner with solid size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) who owns sensational hands. He also often dominated NFL-level competition in college. Just ask former University of Washington standout Marcus Peters. Despite average speed (4.62 40-yard dash), the rookie minicamp star is a versatile asset who will see plentiful snaps and targets working inside or out. A 55-780-5 line is within the realm of possibility.

Liz – WOODS. I’m going floor over ceiling here. A gadgety athlete whose 2015 production came largely from ultra-manufactured plays, Austin’s numbers cratered last season. He may be faster than Woods, but the former Bill is the definition of consistency.

A steady-eddy possession receiver, the former Trojan put up similar stats for four consecutive years, averaging just over 12 yards per reception in that time. He’ll see a bump in targets as the Rams’ expected No. 1 WR. Based on potential volume alone, Woods is worth a flier in deep double-digit rounds. FF: 64-763-6

DUMPSTER DIVING. Is there any scrap metal worth drafting at the bottom of the Rams heap? If so, which player might you take a flier on?

Liz – LANCE DUNBAR. Before tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in his left knee, Dunbar was gaining notoriety in PPR leagues. For the first three weeks of the 2015 season, the then-Cowboys complimentary RB averaged nearly 55 receiving yards per contest and secured the second best catch-rate in the league (91.3%). While the injury appeared catastrophic, Dunbar was eventually able to work his way back to the field in 2016. Despite seeing a large number of snaps on passing downs toward the end of the season, the Dallas backfield had been seized by The-Almighty-Zeke and Dunbar’s services were no longer needed.

Filling the void left by Benny Cunningham, the North Texas product is LA’s new change-of-pace back. Expected to work in on third-downs and in key passing situations, Dunbar is McVay’s 2017 version of Chris Thompson. Dunbar is a fast back who excels in space, but it’ll be crucial to see if he still has the same cutting ability he did prior to his most recent knee injury. If he can stay healthy, he’s a flex-worthy stash in PPR formats.

Brad – TYLER HIGBEE. Jordan Reed was a centerpiece in McVay offenses in Washington. The sophomore, who prior to the 2016 NFL Draft drew comps to former buzzy TEs Jordan Cameron and LaDarius Green, is essentially a big-bodied wide receiver. He dodges tacklers in space and owns plus acceleration for a 6-foot-6, 250-pound target. With a stellar camp, he’ll lock down the Reed role.

Higbee only totaled 11 receptions for 85 yards in 2016, but based on McVay’s recent favorable comments about the tight end, no one should be floored he becomes an integral part of the Rams’ passing attack. He’s a legit shocker special candidate.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF

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