Fantasy 5: Why Todd Gurley isn’t our No. 1 RB
Blame the rest of the Rams' offense. Plus, reasons to love Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins, and reasons to worry about Thomas Rawls and Tyler Eifert.
Fantasy 5: Why Todd Gurley isn’t our No. 1 RB
There’s no witty introduction necessary for today’s Fantasy 5. We have a star-studded cast of five players who all will be at or near the top of fantasy draft boards at their respective positions. With training camp approaching, here are the five things you need to know from over the weekend:
1. Todd Gurley thinks he should be the top fantasy pick. We disagree
There is no shortage of players in the league who think they should be the first pick in fantasy drafts. Most of them have no shot at that distinction, but Gurley is certainly in the mix for this year’s top selection. He told the NFL Network that fantasy drafters should take him No. 1 overall. He then backtracked and said that Antonio Brown or Cam Newton could go ahead of him. You had us until you said Newton, Todd.
Obviously, we don’t want to take fantasy advice from the players, but Gurley’s comments bring up an interesting discussion about where he belongs in the running back rankings. Even after his backpedal, Gurley still positioned himself as the top running back option, and some in the fantasy industry agree with him. However, I’m not part of that group.
Don’t get me wrong: Gurley is a fantastic player who had a remarkable stretch of 12 games following his recovery from the torn ACL that ended his college career. Despite missing those four games, he was one of just seven backs to top the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. But at the same time, he plays in a low-volume offense – the Rams were last in the league in offensive plays per game at 61.4 – with a rookie quarterback likely to be under center for a limited passing game. The latter of which means plenty of loaded boxes for Gurley.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have the talent to succeed. He certainly does. But his being the focus of opposing defenses has the potential to lead to an up-and-down season for fantasy purposes. The potential for inconsistent stats plus his lack of involvement in the passing game makes Gurley more of a mid-range RB1 than it does the top running back option.
2. Thomas Rawls’ boom-or-bust fantasy status
The Seahawks running back situation has been one of the league’s biggest question marks for fantasy purposes. With Marshawn Lynch “retired”, many expect Rawls to step right into the feature role. Of course, there are a few problems with that take. Rawls is still recovering from a pretty severe ankle injury, and his team selected three running backs in April’s draft.
[Nervous about drafting Rawls early? Compare him to other running backs with similar average draft positions in PFF’s new Draft Master tool, looking at week-by-week projections, proprietary PFF data and offensive line grades.]
Perhaps the two are unrelated, but the Seahawks have remained relatively quiet about Rawls’ timetable this offseason. However, Rawls commented on his rehab at Richard Sherman’s charity softball game this weekend, saying that he will “most definitely” be a full go for the start of training camp. It’s difficult to take him at his word given reports earlier in the offseason that Rawls isn’t likely to play in the preseason.
At this point, it’s very tough to trust Rawls for fantasy purposes. Sure, he was electric last year, but all of his production came over just five games. That’s an extremely small sample size. The Seahawks had their concerns about running back before the draft, and selected a strong receiving back with three-down potential in Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise and a bruising early-down runner in Arkansas’ Alex Collins. Unless we see Rawls back on the field and clearly the Seahawks No. 1 in the preseason, it’s tough to draft him as anything more than a boom-or-bust RB2.
3. Buyer beware: Tyler Eifert is likely to miss time early in the season
We’ve heard rumblings about Eifert missing time throughout the offseason, and Bengals director of player personnel gave further indication that this could be the case. Eifert is recovering from an ankle injury he sustained in the Pro Bowl. While initially perceived as minor, the injury required surgery back in May.
Currently being selected as the fourth tight end off the board in ADP, Eifert is still receiving the drafting public’s support. However, his stock is almost guaranteed to slide as we get closer to the end of August. While we have advocated taking players in similar situations – like Rob Gronkowski in 2014 – it’s a good idea to exercise caution with Eifert this year.
The injury is certainly concerning, but he’s a prime regression candidate even when fully healthy. Sure, he scored 13 touchdowns, but did so on just 66 targets. That’s just over half of Delanie Walker’s position-leading 130. Players just don’t score at that rate over a sustained period of time. Of course, the Bengals’ lack of wide receiver depth could mean for a slight uptick in Eifert’s targets, but he’s still unlikely to see enough volume to produce better than mid-pack TE1 numbers.
4. Don’t overlook Mike Evans’ top-5 fantasy potential
In an interview with PewterReport.com, Evans admitted that he wasn’t focused at times last year. In related news, the sky is blue. Evans’ lack of focus resulted in at least one dropped pass in half of the Bucs’ games – including a five-drop game in Week 9 – and 15 drops on the season, which ranked second among wide receivers behind only Raiders rookie Amari Cooper.
The drops issue is certainly annoying from a fantasy owner’s perspective, but it’s not a major cause for concern. The more import matter is Evans’ target share. Last season, only four players saw a larger share of his team’s targets: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, and DeAndre Hopkins. Those guys ranked first, second, third, and sixth, respectively, among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. Evans finished a disappointing 26th in standard leagues, but his healthy target volume suggests positive regression is likely. He’s currently 11th in wide receiver ADP, and has the potential to finish top-5 at the position.
5. Sammy Watkins is an excellent value at his current ADP
We have a lot of unique metrics here at PFF. One that I use a lot for fantasy analysis is points per opportunity (PPO), which displays how many fantasy points a player records on a per opportunity basis. This metric allows you to compare apples to apples in terms of fantasy productivity. Last year, Watkins led the pack at wide receiver in PPO thanks to his massive big-play ability.
There’s a lot to like about Watkins from a fantasy standpoint, but offseason foot surgery has caused his ADP to slide back to the tail end of the third round as the 18th wide receiver being selected. However, Watkins posted a video of himself running where he seems to be suffering no ill effects of the surgical procedure. He’s still likely to miss some, or all, of camp, but Watkins appears to be trending in the right direction. He’s an excellent value at his current ADP.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.