It’s unanimous. Your 2017 Fantasy Football MVP is none other than Todd Gurley. Left for dead by many prognosticators after a disappointing 2016 campaign in which it wasn’t uncommon for Gurley to be selected as the 1st running back in fantasy drafts; 2017 marked the renaissance of Todd Gurley in his new found every-down role, in first time head coach Sean McVay’s offense. While many, understandably, opted to select Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson (I was really high on Melvin Gordon too) before Gurley in 2017 fantasy drafts the selections of Ezekiel Elliott (pending 6 game suspension), Jay Ajayi (boom or bust), and DeMarco Murray (wear and tear) in lieu of Gurley’s talent simply made no sense to me. I clearly was in the minority, and like many had the opportunity to select Gurley at the end of the second round (an absolute steal) this season.
According to Yahoo’s 2017 average draft position (ADP) the Rams superstar was the 10th running back selected in fantasy drafts this season. In fact, Gurley’s ADP was in a virtual dead heat with Leonard Fournette with an average round/pick selection of 2.8. So why did Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, and Jordan Howard in addition to those mentioned previously routinely come off the board before Gurley? The answers are recency bias and the blurred line of distortion that is Fantasy vs. Reality. You could certainly make an argument that Freeman, McCoy and Howard were safer selections, but if you had the intestinal fortitude to pass on those guys in favor of Gurley, the superior talent at this point or better yet opposing fantasy owners made the decision easy for you and picked the “safer” options than good on you.
Todd Gurley’s 3-year professional career to this point could only be characterized as a series of peaks and “a” valley…
First they love him.
- 2015 – Rookie season; debut delayed due to a torn ACL in college, Gurley dazzled the NFL and fantasy community with 4 straight 100-yard games and 229/1106/10 in just 13 games on a bad football team. Jeff Fisher, had his new and improved “Eddie George”. Size, speed, vision and power everything that he displayed at the University of Georgia on an otherwise limited roster offensively. The heir apparent to Adrian Peterson. Gurley was the first running back selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft since 2012.
Then they hate him.
- 2016 – Sophomore slump. New city, “new” stadium; Gurley, the face of the Los Angeles Rams franchise was no longer good at football. He looked sluggish, his vision had eroded, and the early first round pick that many a fantasy owner had invested in him backfired spectacularly. He had zero 100-yard rushing efforts in 16 tries. He wasn’t the player we saw burst onto the scene in 2015, he for all intents and purposes was a BUST.
Then they love him AGAIN.
- 2017 – Gurley is good at football once more! NFL’s leader in touchdowns. NFL’s leader in yards from scrimmage. The Los Angeles Rams win the NFC West division. Gurley receiving league MVP consideration. And “most” importantly Gurley is the #1 player in fantasy football (PPR) on the strength of a historic Fantasy Football Playoff run.
The fact that so many were brazenly questioning Todd Gurley’s ability during a trying 2016 season was baffling. Context be damned, he wasn’t paying fantasy dividends so “clearly” he wasn’t any good. A lame duck head coach, a lack of offensive aptitude among the coaching staff, a non-existent passing game, an abysmal offensive line, a dearth of perimeter threats, and a tailback pressing, trying to do too much all contributed to a forgettable Year #2 for Gurley.
Subtracting Jeff Fisher and a coaching staff devoid of any offensive “know how” was a big step in the right direction. And while many couldn’t anticipate exactly how good Sean McVay would be in a head coach/play-calling capacity it was a fair assumption that Gurley (and Goff) would be better in 2017 considering how poor a job Fisher and his staff did in terms of putting Rams players in a position to be successful. Gurley had nowhere to go but up, IF you could effectively distinguish fantasy vs.reality and ward off recency bias. Additions to the offensive line in the form of All-Pro offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and veteran center John Sullivan stabilized a swinging gate (can’t overstate how much the offensive line improved), transforming the position group into a real strength. Meanwhile, wide receivers Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp were substantial upgrades to Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin. Competent quarterback play, excellent play design and the thoroughbred that is Todd Gurley was off to the races.
Clearly the 2nd year leap for teammate and quarterback Jared Goff was a great indicator; but the fact that Jeff Fisher and his staff rarely utilized Gurley in the passing game and routinely opted to replace him with Benny Cunningham on third and obvious passing downs demonstrated how truly terrible the Rams offensive approach was during Fisher’s tenure. As you can see in the table above, Gurley exceeded his cumulative target total during 2015-2016 (84) in his MVP caliber season with 87 targets. His 64 receptions this season tied his 2-year total from 2015-2016 and his 788 receiving yards in 2017 far outpaced his previous career total of 515 yards. And after zero touchdown receptions during his time as Jeff Fisher’s “offensive centerpiece,” Gurley cashed in 6 times thru the air alone this season.
What’s the point of having a Ferrari if you don’t take out on the open road!?!
The moral of the story is not to succumb to the pitfalls of the previous year’s box score when drafting your fantasy football team. Context and coaching matters.