NFL Free Agency Fantasy Fallout: Can Todd Gurley replicate his big numbers in Atlanta?

Two years ago, the thought of Todd Gurley in the same offense as Julio Jones and Matt Ryan was the kind of stuff reserved for video games and Fantasy rosters. Today it’s a reality.

But before you fist-pump your way down the hallways of your house thinking about Gurley as an automatic top-30 pick, please remember there are reasons why he was available to sign with the Falcons in the first place.

Gurley posted career lows in rushing yards (857) and carries (223) despite playing 15 games. His rushing average (3.8), reception total (31) and receiving yards (207) were all second-worst in his career. He did an above-average job in terms of breaking tackles and making defenders miss, averaging 2.78 yards after contact per attempt (18th among qualified running backs per Pro Football Focus), but he had just eight carries of 15-plus yards, tied with Carlos Hyde and Sony Michel for 19th best. A year prior, Gurley had 17 such runs. He would have been a colossal disappointment if not for the 14 total touchdowns he scored, nine of which came from five yards or closer.

Most of you know a sizable reason for Gurley’s lack of explosiveness had to do with his arthritic knee limiting him. You could just tell by watching him play that he wasn’t quite the same guy who crushed it in Fantasy leagues in 2017 and 2018. That combined with an unfathomably bad offensive line made life hard on Gurley.

It’s kinda crazy to think that the outlook for him will be better just because he’s in Atlanta. True, the offensive line blocking for him should be better, but his knee concerns are now the Falcons’ problem. Maybe they don’t bother to manage it since he’s on a one-year deal, but that could just lead to a problem that sidelines Gurley.

We’ve seen the Falcons use multiple running backs before. Expect it to happen again. It would make a ton of sense to pair Gurley with a quality rookie and let them share the workload. Even during his breakout years, Devonta Freeman had just one season with over 230 carries. Tevin Coleman never saw 170 carries in a year with the Falcons. It should be expected that Gurley falls between those totals in 2020 assuming he doesn’t get bit by the injury bug.

The silver lining? Rookie running backs are usually not ready to chop down blitzers, so bet on seeing Gurley on a lot of third downs. Perhaps the one area Gurley could see improved numbers in 2020 is through the air.

A rosy, sun-shiny projection for Gurley would include close to 250 touches (including as many as 50 catches) and a little more than the 1,064 total yards he had in 2019. But even the most optimistic outcome won’t have Gurley in line for 14 total touchdowns, his 2019 total. I’m not even sure Fantasy managers should believe he could score 10 touchdowns. Atlanta’s offense has plenty of firepower, just like the Rams, but a Falcons back has amassed 10-plus total scores just twice in the past seven seasons.

There won’t be many Fantasy managers who will reach for Gurley. The better plan is to play it conservatively. Even if he’s working with a better offensive line and in a system where defenses can’t consistently crowd the line of scrimmage, odds are he’ll share touches and playing time. That alone makes him a No. 2 Fantasy running back. Considering his additional downside related to injuries and ineffectiveness, and he’s closer to a low-end No. 2 choice.

If it comes to pass that the Falcons don’t add another running back, Gurley’s value would likely gain some steam. Until then, he’s not worth the risk until the tail end of Round 4 and the beginning of Round 5.

And no, Gurley’s arrival shouldn’t mean bad things for the Falcons passing game. This is a team that should still chuck it plenty of times. However, if the Falcons wind up with one of the top two, maybe top three, running backs in the class, that could impact the upside for Jones, Ridley and Ryan since it will mean a legitimate dedication to rebuilding their run game.

It’s incredible to think that it’ll take a rookie and not Todd Gurley to change the projected pass-run ratio for an NFL team. Things change really fast in the NFL.

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