Let's examine what we think of players with the preseason over and the season ahead.
- For And Against Todd Gurley And LeSean McCoy
- For Real/Fool's Good: Rookie Edition
- Great Week/Great Year?
- Bad Week/Bad Year?
For And Against Todd Gurley And LeSean McCoy
Matt Waldman: Todd Gurley was one of the most polarizing fantasy commodities of the summer while many figured LeSean McCoy had little to offer until he landed in Kansas City less than two weeks ago. Now that we've seen their 2019 debuts, let's play a little game...
- Supply BOTH sides of the argument for and against Gurley and McCoy as a viable starter in lineups using two running backs.
- Share whether you're buying or selling each runner.
To get things started, I was the highest on staff with my rankings of both runners. After watching Gurley on Sunday, I believe he performed well enough that his 60/40 workload split is on the lower side of the Rams distribution plans for the season because the Rams had a 13-point lead for much of the game and it was Gurley's first live-action all year. Now that the Rams eased Gurley into playing time, I expect a distribution closer to 65-70 percent and more red-zone touches.
This is lower than the near 80 percent share of the running back workload Gurley has earned in the past under Sean McVay when healthy, but it remains enough volume for Gurley to deliver no worse than top-15 production at this position. Considering how efficient Gurley was with his carries against a pretty good Panthers defense, I'm less alarmed about Malcolm Brown's workload. Last year, there were two games while Gurley was still healthy where Brown earned at least a 40 percent share of the workload. Both were contests where the Ram had solid leads early in the game like what we saw on Sunday.
Taking the opposite end of the Gurley argument, the 60/40 distribution between Gurley and Brown could be a best-case for Gurley if the Rams continue winning and Brown performs as he's capable. At this point, the drafting of Gurley as a second-round pick turns into an investment with no upside and several avenues that lead to a potential downside.
Brown is well-suited as a red-zone. He's a big, strong, and bruising runner with underrated short-area quickness and patience. He's essentially a better-conditioned C.J. Anderson and the Detroit Lions pegged Brown as its first choice during free agency until the Rams matched the deal and Detroit "settled" for Anderson.
Gurley's red zone opportunities not only created the potential for elite fantasy totals but also buoyed his production during sub-par yardage performances. Brown's role could eliminate this safety net for Gurley's fantasy production. If the Rams jump to early leads we could see Brown relegate Gurley to minimal touches and lots of bench time to keep Gurley fresh for closer games, tough matchups, and the playoffs.
If this is the case, Gurley may earn a lot of touches in tougher matchups but we lose out on his potential to have stellar weeks against the easiest opponents. And of course, there's the arthritic knee. Gurley looked good this week but there was a run where I wondered if he would have transformed the play into a breakaway effort a year or two ago. While this thought is purely speculative about his acceleration, we know that his knee is a ticking time bomb for his career—we just don't know the length of the fuse.
I buying Gurley if I can get him for the price of a fantasy RB2 or RB3 in three-back formats. I might go as high as offering a receiver like Tyrell Williams and maybe a key reserve for my opponent's roster. I'd also consider offering a top tight end like Zach Ertz or George Kittle if I had T.J. Hockenson or Darren Waller.
Let's hear your thoughts on Gurley.
Daniel Simpkins Matt, are you really making us go full Skip Bayless and asking us to debate ourselves?
Waldman: I was thinking more like your grandpa when he's grumpy and grandma told him to take out the trash, but I suppose Bayless is that guy too.
Simpkins: Ok, I’ll play along, but you won’t get me into one of those hideous suits he wears.
Despite limited usage in week one, Gurley is still going to be fine for fantasy in the long-term. Matt shared some excellent clips in his Top 10 article that show that Gurley is physically sound again and not limited to straight-line running, as he seemed to be after last year’s knee injury sustained in the Chiefs game. It’s likely that the coaching staff is just easing him back in after he did not play the entire preseason. Perhaps tempering expectations for the next couple of weeks will help fantasy general managers to get through this rough patch of production until he is up to speed.
The fear with Gurley is that the coaching staff got a wake-up call when he was injured and could not play to the effectiveness that he had enjoyed previously. They saw what their offense would be like without him and they decided that they should do everything possible to extend his career. As part of that plan, they extended Malcolm Brown to be the short-term committee option and drafted Darrell Henderson to be the long-term committee option. The days of Gurley being a true feature back are behind him.
I buy the former argument over the latter one. That means I’m trying to buy low on Gurley before his usage creeps back closer to what it was last year.
Andy Hicks: The pro argument is fairly straight forward. The Rams are saving Todd Gurley and using other backs to spread the load.
As we saw unfold last season, he wore down. This year, he will be managed and be used to maybe 80-90 percent of his previous usage. With well over 20-23 touches a game previously I would expect that to drop to somewhere between 18-20 a game. Because Gurley is one of the best backs in the league, what he does with those touches still easily makes him a starting running back.
The against argument relies on his lack of red-zone touches, the competent supporting cast, and his potential to wear down again. All fine if the Rams are winning games easily and cruising to the playoffs.
I would be buying Gurley as long as there was a reasonable seller. Gurley is one of the best backs in the league and will see more touches than all but a handful of backs. While his touchdowns may not be at the stratospheric number of years gone by he is going to be a clear fantasy starter if not potential league winner. A 10 percent drop in his stats from last year, still would have ranked him third. A 20 percent drop still would have resulted in a fifth-place finish. This is despite Gurley missing two games and playing hampered in others.
Dan Hindery: Based upon what we saw Week 1, Gurley has to be in your starting lineup unless your roster is incredibly loaded. He played 70 percent of the snaps and ran a route on 71 percent of the passing plays. Those are both solid numbers.
The fact that Goff only targeted him once is a bit concerning but unless we see that become a trend, we can write it off as a bit fluky considering how often Gurley was running routes. The lack of goal-line usage is also easy to write off as fluky. Malcolm Brown got most of the looks around the end zone but that was because he saw work in two complete drives and those ended with goalline opportunities.
Brown didn't sub in at the goal line for Gurley on any of Gurley's drives and Gurley still managed 97 yards despite touching it only 14 times. We can feel fairly confident he is going to get into the end zone at a decent rate moving forward.
I can’t make the argument for benching Gurley at this point. At the very least, he is a solid RB2. However, I am selling if I can get anywhere near what his value was in drafts a couple of weeks ago.
There is no reason to panic about Gurley being a huge fantasy bust. Still, the very early returns point to him likely being more of a solid RB2 than an elite RB1 and not fully living up to his ADP.
It’s been almost nine months since we last saw the Rams feed Gurley a bunch of touches in a game. We can shrug off any single game with excuses but as it happens, again and again, we should probably just assume Gurley is a 15-touch-per-game-back until we see some proof he isn’t.
Waldman: Love the context behind the red-zone touches for Brown, Dan. I didn't even consider that point.
Will Grant: To land Gurley, you had to spend at least a second-round pick—often a first. He was on the field for 70 percent of the offensive snaps for the Rams so the opportunity is there. Given how he finished last season and the easy workload he had over the summer, it makes sense that they would pull him near the goal line to 'ease' him back into the season. He's on the field and will get more opportunities as the season progresses. Be patient.
As others have said, I don't think you can bench him unless you are in a 10-team league and have other alternatives. Earning 15 touches isn't what you hoped it would be but you have to look at this as the absolute floor. Even with those limited touches, he had 100 yards from scrimmage. The only way that you bench him at this point is if you think that volume will decline, which I don't see.
Hold Steady is my official answer. I suppose if I could convince someone to trade him for Tarik Cohen or Rex Burkhead, I'd consider it but the reality is Gurley owners aren't selling him for anything less than 2nd round value. That means they'll want a guy like Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette as a return pick and If I have either of those guys, I'm not giving them up for Gurley right now. If I had Gurley and someone offered me Cook or Fournette, I'd probably take it.
Maurile Tremblay: The argument for Gurley is that in his four years in the league, he has three top-five fantasy finishes at his position, including number-one finishes in each of the past two seasons. He's in a high-powered offense that will have a lot of red zone opportunities, and Gurley is a terrific goal-line runner.
The argument against Gurley is that his knee went haywire at the end of last season, and it may happen again. In the meantime, in order to reduce the risk of recurrence, the Rams will apparently give him a reduced workload compared to past seasons. In Week 1, he had only 15 touches. He looked strong on those touches. He can be a viable fantasy starter on 15 touches a week, but it will be as an RB2 rather than an RB1. It's also a bad sign that Malcolm Brown, not Gurley, got the close-range touchdowns.
I'm buying for the right price. Some of his owners are panicking based on Week 1, but I liked what I saw from him, and I expect the Rams to use Gurley on the goal line in most cases. That's how they'll maximize their chance of scoring.
Chad Parsons: The supportive argument for Todd Gurley includes his track record as not an RB1, but THE RB1 in all of fantasy. Gurley is a special talent on a strong offense and his snap count and efficiency in Week 1 was encouraging he is good to go (or at least more than late last season) physically.
The counterargument is that Malcolm Brown (who is a legit talent in his own right) looked fantastic near the goal line and earned two touchdowns. Also, Gurley was not used in the passing game. If short-range touchdown opportunities are limited AND Gurley is not a high volume receiver, he is destined for RB2-land this season. I am one of the biggest Malcolm Brown fans out there (own him in more than 40 percent of my dynasty leagues), but think health is the only thing between Gurley and a top-8 to top-10 fantasy season in 2019.
Waldman: Excellent. Let's do the same for LeSean McCoy.
I had McCoy as a top-20 fantasy runner as soon as he landed in Kansas City. It's difficult for many to separate a running back from his offensive line when analyzing the runner. However, if you watch how McCoy set up blocks or managed his decision-making behind a Bills' offensive line that no longer had the personnel that made it and McCoy one of the top running games in the NFL prior to Sean McDermott's head coaching tenure, you could see evidence that McCoy still had potential to be a productive running back.
The fact that Andy Reid and the Chiefs could separate process from outcome when studying McCoy and immediately signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal indicates that they believe he'll be Kansas City's best backfield weapon soon enough. McCoy made better decisions than Damien Williams this weekend and outproduced Williams despite a week of acclimation to the system—a scheme that has some similarities to what McCoy did in Philadelphia under Reid but not as similar as many claimed.
Because Reid has a penchant for leaning on one excellent back when he has one, there's an opportunity for McCoy to shut the door on the competition and take over as the feature back this year while the Chiefs are in a window of contention for an AFC Championship. However, Reid is usually patient enough to continue with a committee for 3-5 weeks before making the call.
Knowing that Reid will allow his backs to compete, Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson have the talent to force a committee with McCoy if McCoy lacks the stamina and special sauce he once had to deliver elite performances week after week and manage a high volume of touches. While I'm not a believer in Williams as anything more than a competent NFL running back, that's enough for solid RB2 production or low-end RB1 PPR production in this offense.
Thompson earned minimal touches this week but if Williams and/or McCoy falter, Reid will give Tompson an opportunity. Reid did this in the past with Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware, Damien, and Darrel Williams.
As mentioned, I'm on the McCoy side of the argument and if I find myself weak at running back, I'd value McCoy as a fantasy RB2 with hidden upside. It means that I'd try to acquire him at an RB3 value but I'd potentially pay RB2 capital if I had the depth live with that expense because I think there's a viable scenario where Reid makes McCoy the feature back and he delivers 1,500-1,600 total yards and double-digit touchdown totals as a surprise RB1 in his last hurrah.
I don't want to count that on that possibility but if the RB market is thin and I don't want to wait because I believe my trade bait will turn into rotten pumpkins soon, then I might take the chance, knowing that I usually can build contenders with strong talent at other positions while living with my best back having low-end RB2 value.
Chad, where do you stand on McCoy?
Parsons: LeSean McCoy is a top-flight talent and moves to the friendly confines of an Andy Reid offense. Even with limited time with the team, McCoy was highly involved in Week 1 and effective.
On the downside, Damien Williams took much of the passing game work, which would be a limiting element to McCoy's upside. I side on McCoy taking over as the clear preferred back in terms of snaps and total touches within the next week or two.
Williams will spell McCoy and probably have more catches. However, there is plenty of juice in the Chiefs offense to support McCoy in the RB10-18 range and Williams as a flex option.
Tremblay: The argument for McCoy is that whoever lines up in the Chiefs' backfield is going to score a lot of fantasy points, and McCoy may be the best running back they've got. He had significantly more success than Damien Williams in Week 1 (8.1 yards per rush compared to 2.0, and 12.0 yards per target compared to 6.5). Andy Reid will go with the hot hand, and if you believe that McCoy is a better running back than Williams, you can expect him to settle in as a top-20 fantasy RB.
The argument against McCoy is age. He was largely ineffective in Buffalo last year, and 31-year-old running backs seldom find rejuvenation in the NFL. He looked good in Week 1 on a small sample of runs, but as the wear and tear accumulate over multiple games, he'll remain behind Damien Williams in the rotation.
It's why I'm selling McCoy. Damien Williams had a rough Week 1, but he'll bounce back, and I don't think McCoy will get enough touches in Kansas City to be a consistent fantasy starter.
Grant: McCoy is back with Andy Reid and hungry to show he can still play. The Chiefs were not completely sold on Damien Williams anyway, and his stock was falling at the end of the summer. McCoy won't get 25 touches a game, but in a KC offense that looks like it could average 35 points per week again this season, there will be plenty of action to go around.
In Buffalo, he was the starter and people were still looking at him as an RB3 / Flex. Why did that change when he went to a team with a clear starting running back in Williams and a young guy like Darwin Thompson who is more suited to be the future of the franchise than McCoy is? McCoy's upside is capped and he's not a guy you can count on from week to week. He'll do just enough to make you wish you had stated someone else, but not enough to make you want to trade or drop him.
It's why I'm selling him. The Chiefs embarrassed the Jaguars last week and McCoy had just 11 touches. I see nothing that convinces me he'll suddenly go to 15 or 20 a game. He's good insurance for the Chiefs in case Williams or Thompson go down to injury but unless that happens, or you have a deep fantasy roster, I'd rather take a chance on a guy with some upside.
Hindery: The biggest argument in favor of McCoy is simply that he is a part of the best offense in football. The Chiefs scored 66 offensive touchdowns last season.
In Week 1, they went on the road to face a talented Jacksonville defense and scored four offensive touchdowns while racking up 491 yards. There are going to be yards and touchdowns to go around given the huge offensive pie.
The optimistic view of McCoy’s Week 1 performance hinges things on two things. First, he was a much more efficient runner than Damien Williams, gaining 55 more yards on the ground despite three fewer carries. He looked like he still had plenty of burst and he probably earned more carries in subsequent weeks from his performance.
Second, while McCoy only played 29 percent of the snaps, we can make a solid argument that is only because he signed with the Chiefs approximately one week before the game and still didn’t know the entire playbook. It is easy to see his share of snaps rising.
The pessimistic view of McCoy would be that it is possible we don’t see a big change in the distribution of snaps or offensive roles we saw in Week 1. Damien Williams played 66 percent of the snaps, which is typical for Reid's starting running backs.
Williams also saw six targets to just one for McCoy and the biggest strength of Williams’ game is as a pass-catcher. Williams also received the short-yardage and goal-line carries, another role he has handled well. If the roles don’t change much and McCoy doesn’t get the goal-line work or a big number of targets, it is hard to get too excited. Even averaging 8.1 yards per carry, he still finished as just the RB30 (PPR scoring) last week.
As long as the price is right, I am buying any and all pieces of this Chiefs offense, including McCoy. It isn’t crazy to set a baseline expectation of four offensive touchdowns and 425 yards from this offense heading into each game. It is hard to figure out exactly how this backfield will play out but McCoy has a reasonable path to a featured role, either through injury to Williams or by simply earning more playing time at Williams' expense.
Hicks: There is no doubt that LeSean McCoy is a better fantasy option in Kansas City than in Buffalo, despite a likely drop in touches. To be a fantasy starter in two-back leagues last year required less than 10 fantasy points a game. McCoy did that in his first game and has significant room for more touches, receptions, and touchdowns.
Damien Williams and the other backs are clearly not in the same class as McCoy, so best back sees the most points. The against argument relies on his age being an issue and the presence of Damien Williams stealing his touches and touchdowns.
I would clearly be buying McCoy while he can be acquired at below his value. We saw ample evidence in week one that McCoy has better vision and more adaptability in an offense that will allow him more room than he has seen since his Eagle days.
Simpkins: McCoy is in one of the best offenses in football. Despite not being the running back he once was, like Frank Gore, McCoy understands the nuances of the position to such a degree that he can compensate for his diminished athleticism.
Damien Williams is really just a guy and Darwin Thompson, while talented, is not ready to take on a featured role with this team. Williams and Thompson will get work, but that work will decrease as time passes because the team will see that McCoy offers the best value per touch of any of the three.
Still, there's an argument that McCoy’s skills have diminished significantly from where they were even three years ago. He’s in a three-headed committee with Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson that will limit his touches and upside, despite being in a good offense. McCoy will be the victim of irrational coaching and, while he will have good weeks, he is not trustworthy as a fantasy starter.
Once again, I’m taking the former argument. I’m buying McCoy wherever I can. If I’m hard-up at running back, I’ll look to trade someone like D.K. Metcalf or Cortland Sutton-- guys who had good weeks but probably will not be consistently steady producers.