Divisional Round NFL Fantasy RB Breakdown: Is Todd Gurley Finally Back?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30).
Wild Card weekend was wildly wonderful, and the joy of playing daily fantasy football is once again upon us. The divisional round of the playoffs brings a star-studded four-game slate that kicks off on Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at two running backs at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
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Model Running Backs
Todd Gurley has been an afterthought for much of the second half of the season, but this week he’s the back who stands out the most in the FantasyLabs Pro Models.
- Todd Gurley: $8,000 DraftKings; $9,000 FanDuel
Todd Gurley: Los Angeles Rams (-7) vs. Dallas Cowboys, 48.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (1/12): Gurley practiced fully on Friday. Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving (ankle) is out.
For the first half of the season, Gurley was a psuedo-fashionable MVP candidate for the then-undefeated Rams, but for the past two months Gurley has been something of a ghost.
Gurley struggled in the team’s 54-51 Week 11 victory over the Chiefs because of an ankle injury. He emerged from the Week 12 bye fully healthy and put up 30 FanDuel points against the Lions in Week 13, but he had his worst game of the season on the road against the Bears in Week 14, and in Week 15 he suffered a knee injury, which caused him to miss Weeks 16-17.
Only once in the past eight weeks has Gurley been on the main slate.
But now the rested Gurley is ready to return to fantasy relevance. After practicing this week, Gurley is no longer on the injury report. It’s impossible to know whether Gurley will be functioning at 100% capacity after his long layoff, but his postseason availability was never in doubt even as he sat out Weeks 16-17.
Head coach Sean McVay said that Gurley looks like himself, but that might just be coach-speak mumbo jumbo, which makes Gurley a little hard to trust, especially since the team could give some work to backup C.J. Anderson after he looked like a generational talent with 299 yards rushing and two touchdowns over his past two games.
As we mentioned on the Wednesday edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, Gurley probably carries more than the usual amount of risk this weekend.
If you opt to steer clear of Gurley in cash games, I can’t blame you. But our Models like him.
When healthy this season, he had a 92.6% snap rate (per the RotoViz Player Usage App). On DraftKings, he hasn’t been this cheap all season. On FanDuel, he hasn’t been this discounted since Week 2. It’s hard not to roster Gurley when he’s priced down in a must-win game.
Even with all the concerns surrounding Gurley, he’s still the undisputed lead back on a team that has hit its implied Vegas total in an NFL-high 22 games under McVay since last season. The Rams averaged a league-high 29.9 points per game last season, and this season they have improved to 32.9.
Their offense is as good as any unit in the league, and this week the Rams are implied for a respectable 28.75 points.
In the McVay era, Gurley has easily been the best running back in football, leading the position with 23.9 FanDuel points per game, 3,924 yards and 40 touchdowns from scrimmage. He has 18-plus opportunities (rushes and targets) in every game with McVay except in his injury-impacted Week 11.
Last season, Gurley led the league (in 15 games) with 37 opportunities inside the 10-yard line, and he shattered that mark in 2018 (in 14 games) with 36 carries and eight targets inside the 10.
And that doesn’t take into account his three successful two-point conversions. With his goal-line opportunities and scoring prowess, Gurley is always in consideration.
Gurley has something of a mixed matchup against the Cowboys. He has a fantastic offensive line.
Todd Gurley = amazing
CJ Anderson = apparently still good
Rams offensive line = historically great
Most adjusted line yards per rush since 1996 (when Football Outsiders began tracking):
1. 2018 Rams (5.49) 👀
2. 2018 Saints (5.19)
3. 2002 Broncos (5.13)
4. 2000 Rams (5.09)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 2, 2019
But the Cowboys are fifth against the run in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, thanks primarily to breakout linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, who are top-six at their positions with respective Pro Football Focus grades of 84.9 and 84.4.
The linebackers are the strength of the Dallas defense, and that defense is pretty good: Only once this season did a team score more than 28 points against the Cowboys, and that was in Week 17, when some of the defensive starters played limited snaps in a meaningless game.
The matchup, though, might not matter for Gurley because of the focused way in which the Rams use him. Of all backs with 10-plus carries per game, Gurley has faced fronts of eight or more defenders on a league-low 8.2% of his runs (Next Gen Stats).
When the box is loaded, the Rams audible to the pass. As a result, Gurley tends to get the ball in matchup-neutralizing situations: When a team runs primarily against advantageous fronts, the overall strength of the run defense matters less.
Plus, Gurley is an integral part of the passing game with his 81 targets, 59 receptions, 580 yards receiving, 556 yards after the catch and four receiving touchdowns. As a receiver, Gurley’s in a good spot: The Cowboys are 26th in pass DVOA against running backs.
For all his virtues, the rookie Vander Esch has been targeted in pass coverage 87 times (the second-highest total among linebackers), and he’s allowed an 82.8% catch rate, 381 yards after the catch and three touchdowns receiving.
One way or another, Gurley is likely to get his touches.
Read the full version of this piece on FantasyLabs for more on Gurley and Patriots running back James White.
Divisional Round Positional Breakdowns
Be sure to read the other divisional round positional breakdowns.
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