2017-Present - McVay's run

Fantasy Football 2018: The Case for (and Against) Todd Gurley as the No. 1 Pick

2018's top projected player talking to 2017's top projected player after a game.

Nearly half of fantasy football champions playing on NFL.com had Todd Gurley on their roster last season.

Owning Todd Gurley last season was like winning the lottery. Typically drafted in the late second or early third round, Gurley exploded as the most dominant player in fantasy football last season. He finished No. 1 overall in scoring and it wasn’t even close: Gurley scored 40 more fantasy points than Le’Veon Bell in standard PPR scoring.

Gurley’s numbers were downright silly by the end of the season. In his final three games, the typical run of the fantasy football playoffs, Gurley put up over 500 total yards and eight touchdowns. He’s the odds on favorite to be the top overall pick in your fantasy league. But should he be? I’ll be making the case for and against selecting Gurley number one overall in your draft this August.

The Case for Todd Gurley

Three main factors come to mind as to why you should draft Todd Gurley as the No. 1 pick, listed in order of importance.

Production

The numbers don’t lie: Todd Gurley went bananas last season. His per game averages were 87 rushing yards, four receptions for 53 receiving yards, and one touchdown. He averaged 25.6 points per game in PPR scoring, 2.8 points higher than Le’Veon Bell. You could remove six touchdowns from Gurley last season and he’d still be the highest scoring position player.

In his 15 games last season, Gurley failed to total 100 yards only three times and didn’t find the end zone in five. He only failed to do both once. He totaled 100 yards and scored double digit touchdowns in five games. He was the most valuable player in fantasy, and it wasn’t even close.

System Stability

The only change amongst starters on the offense was swapping Sammy Watkins for Brandin Cooks, a move many consider an upgrade. Nothing will change in regards to Gurley’s game. He’ll be running behind the same offensive line, he’ll be getting handoffs from the same quarterback, and he’ll be playing for the same coach.

Sean McVay’s system did wonders for everyone last year, but most notably Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. Goff went from Keith Null to Kurt Warner. Todd Gurley went from Trung Candidate to Marshall Faulk. There’s no reason to expect a strong decline from either guy with McVay still around.

The Eye-Test

The eye-test isn’t as important in fantasy scouting as it is in actual scouting, but it still holds weight, and Todd Gurley passes it with flying colors. Gurley always looked like the best player on the field running the ball last season. Outside of 2016, there’s never been a time where you could turn on a game Gurley was playing in and not believe he’s the real deal. Gurley remains one of the NFL’s most talented players. It feels good when you can draft a guy who looks good on paper and on the field.

For more information on Gurley passing the eye-test, watch this video of him jumping over people.

The Case Against Todd Gurley

Nobody can argue that Todd Gurley isn’t one of the league’s best offensive players. Nobody should argue that he won’t produce like a first round talent in 2018. But we’re talking about the top one pick here. We have to try and seal every crack we can before walking into the draft. Here are a few factors that would knock Gurley’s case as the number one player.

2016

Todd Gurley was incredible in 2017, but we can’t just forget that 2016 happened.

Gurley was a consensus top-3 running back entering the 2016 season and was going as high as No. 1 overall in drafts. He then struggled to do much of anything in his self-described “middle school offense.” Gurley didn’t rush for 100 yards a single time that season. He didn’t even cross 90 yards on the ground. Gurley produced one game with multiple touchdowns, and five games with any touchdowns. He had one game with 100 total yards.

Digging deeper into Gurley’s career totals, he ran for 100 yards just once over a 24-game stretch dating back to 2015. Gurley averaged 59 yards per game on 3.43 yards per rush during this stretch.

I believe the 2017 season is closer to what Todd Gurley is than 2016. However, when looking at his career as a whole, he has 1.5 great seasons and 1.5 rough seasons. This can be a bit of a red flag in comparison with other more consistent candidates.

Le’Veon Bell

Le’Veon Bell is always one of the top picks in fantasy drafts over the past few years. This isn’t an accident.

Bell has averaged 137 total yards per game over the past four seasons. He was the third highest scoring non-quarterback in PPR leagues in 2016 despite playing in just 12 games. Here are Bell’s PPR points per game over the past four years:

  • 2014: 23.6 PPG; first among running backs, second overall.
  • 2015: 18.5 PPG; fourth among running backs, twelfth among FLEX eligible players.
  • 2016: 26.5 PPG; second among running backs, second overall.
  • 2017: 22.8 PPG; second among running backs, third overall.

Keep in mind that Bell played in just six games during the 2015 season. Bell’s track record speaks for itself. Assuming he doesn’t hold out to start the season, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to, Bell is the safest pick at number one.

David Johnson

Impressed by Todd Gurley’s 25.6 points per game during the 2016 season? It’s a full point less than what Johnson averaged in 2016. Let’s do a brief breakdown of the case for and against taking David Johnson No. 1 overall.

The Case For: Johnson scored the most fantasy points per game of any non-quarterback since 2012 during his 2016 campaign. He’s a dominant player both on the ground and through the air. His injury likely won’t have any lingering affects this year. He’s only started 22 games over the past few years and his body doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear on it. He might be the most talented position player in the league.

The Case Against: He might have some rust to shake off after missing almost all of 2017. The Cardinals have a new head coach and a new quarterback. Johnson won’t have the system stability that Bell and Gurley have coming into the season. He’s the riskiest pick from the top tier of players.

Take it as you will. David Johnson is a fantastic player who should have a great season. Will his numbers surpass Bell or Gurley? It’s hard to predict given the current situation in Arizona.

Conclusion

Todd Gurley is an incredible player who will likely be playing in one of the NFL’s elite offenses. He proved in 2015 that he can perform at a high level even if the players around him aren’t great. He proved last season that he can perform at the highest level if the players around him are great. It’s hard to predict anything more than a slight decline for Gurley, and I mean slight. He’s currently the number one projected player for good reason.

Not agreeing with the notion that Gurley should go No. 1 isn’t like arguing that James Harden is a better player than LeBron James. Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson are very close to Gurley in my personal rankings. I wouldn’t judge anyone for passing on Gurley with the number one pick for one of them.

That being said, I’m a Rams fan. I’m sure most of you reading this are Rams fans. It’s not just our navy and gold white tinted goggles telling us that Gurley should be the number one overall pick. He probably should be the top overall pick this year. When a player from your favorite team is even in the conversation, you know you won’t pass up on him. We never do.

Note: Points per game statistics are tallied through Week 16. 

Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. You can find more fantasy football articles by Steve over at  RotoBaller. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here.

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