Los Angeles Rams Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Forgive and Forget Todd Gurley

Wednesday August 2nd, 2017

Todd Gurley’s abrupt fall from grace last season was stunning, akin to a Hollywood A-lister winning the Oscar for Best Actor one year and appearing on “The Celebrity Apprentice” the next. It wasn’t all Gurley’s fault, of course. His supporting cast wasn’t fit for a Nickelodeon sitcom, and as directors go, Jeff Fisher made Ed Wood look like a first-rate auteur in comparison (though for pure camp value, Fisher was every bit Wood’s equal).

Running Backs

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Todd Gurley RB10 RB10 Forgive and forget

Some people were less surprised by Gurley’s downfall than others. Matt Harmon of NFL.com (@MattHarmon_BYB) lit warning flares in early August, enumerating the reasons why Gurley wasn’t worthy of a top-five pick. I failed to take heed, blithely ranking Gurley RB1 largely on the premise that, hey, his supporting cast stunk in 2015, too, and he was terrific anyway. (I’ll just leave my credibility here by the door and be on my way.)

It would be hard to overstate just how awful Greg Robinson was in his three seasons with the Rams before being traded to the Lions last month for a sixth-round draft pick. Drafted second overall in 2014, Robinson was a colossal bust. He received poor annual grades from Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 71st among offensive tackles last year. Robinson is being replaced by Andrew Whitworth, a pro’s pro who has consistently received stellar grades from PFF—he ranked second among all offensive tackles last year – and was rightly given a lucrative deal to help stabilize the Rams’ O-line. The Rams have also added competent center John Sullivan. Gurley averaged 1.59 yards before contact last year, second lowest among 42 qualifying running backs. Whitworth and Sullivan should help with that. Perhaps more important, Fisher and overmatched former offensive coordinator Rob Boras are gone. New Rams head coach Sean McVay, who coordinated the Redskins’ offense the last three years, somehow managed to make Rob Kelley look like a pretty good NFL running back last season and should do a much better job of showcasing Gurley than Fisher and Boras did in 2016.

Gurley has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of RB10, and he’s coming off the board in the middle of the second round, on average. I’m not exactly targeting him at that price, but if he slips into the latter part of the second round or the early third, I might take the plunge.

Behind Gurley are Lance Dunbar and Malcolm Brown. Dunbar, an undersized third-down back, has a career catch rate of 77.3% and a career average of 9.5 yards per catch, but he’s been plagued by knee issues the last two years. You could do worse for an end-of-the-bench guy in a deep PPR league. Brown, a former undrafted free agent who had an unremarkable college career at Texas, is undraftable in all but the deepest of leagues, though he’d become a hot waiver-wire pickup if Gurley went down.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Jared Goff N/A QB31 Let ripen

Jared Goff reportedly scored well on the Wonderlich test before the Rams traded up to take him with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, yet in last year’s installment of the HBO training camp series “Hard Knocks,” it was revealed that Goff didn’t know the direction in which the sun rises. (Neither did a couple of Goff’s teammates, but they play positions other than quarterback.) The young Galileo was predictably bad in seven late-season starts, completing 54.6 percent of his passes, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt and posting a 5-7 TD-INT ratio. It’s probably safe to assume that Goff’s development will take years, not months. But let’s try to find the rainbow here, shall we? The presence of Whitworth might make Goff feel less skittish in the pocket, and McVay’s mentorship could help immensely. Kirk Cousins developed into a quality NFL starter under McVay’s tutelage, and perhaps Goff will, too. Still, Goff’s redraft value is virtually nil unless you’re playing in a 2-QB or superflex league, in which case he’s still only marginally draftable.

Wide receivers

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Tavon Austin WR66 WR68 Pay less than $42m
Robert Woods RB72 RB54 Consider late

In the professional world, some people are blessed with a career angel – a higher-up who takes an interest in them soon after they enter the workforce and helps them climb the ladder, keeping them ahead of the curve in terms of status and compensation. Sometimes these angels are so devoted that they simply put their protégés on their backs and carry them up the ladder. We should all be so lucky to have the sort of career angel that Rams GM Les Snead has been to Tavon Austin.

In 2013, Snead traded up to draft Austin eighth overall, then gave the rookie a $12.75 million contract that included a signing bonus of more than $7.6 million. Austin averaged 647.3 yards from scrimmage and 5.3 touchdowns over his first three seasons with the Rams, adding value as a kick returner. How much value? Well, Snead lavished a four-year, $42 million extension upon Austin last summer that included $28.5 million in guaranteed money. Snead’s offer to Austin was captured by HBO cameras and aired on the training camp series “Hard Knocks,” causing discerning football fans across the country to slap their foreheads in unison.

Not surprisingly, the Fisher regime was unable to effectively deploy Austin in the passing game. Perhaps McVay will be able to unlock that aspect of Austin’s game. There’s been talk that Austin will be to the Rams what DeSean Jackson was to the Redskins. But maybe Austin is just a glorified return man whose long-term offensive future is limited to a few sub-packages and the occasional jet sweep. At an ADP of WR68, Austin is a decent late-round dart throw for dedicated members of Team McVay.

Robert Woods is widely viewed by fantasy writers to be a bargain at his ADP of WR72 since he now ranks higher on the food chain than he did in Buffalo. With the Rams, however, we’re talking about the phytoplankton/invertebrate end of the food chain. On a practical level, how comfortable would you feel about having Woods in your starting lineup in an average-sized league in any given week? If it’s Week 2, not very comfortable, I’d imagine. In the middle of the season, when there are multiple teams on bye and the injuries have mounted, different story. But yes, Woods is a decent late-round value.

The draftniks and dynasty leaguers are divided on rookie Cooper Kupp, a big (6-2, 204) but slow (4.62) slot receiver who broke multiple records during his college career but did so mostly against easy competition at Eastern Washington. From the NFL.com draft profile of Kupp: “If he goes to a team with a good quarterback, watch out.” Um ...

Also in the mix at wide receiver: rookie Josh Reynolds and second-year men Mike Thomas and Pharoh Cooper, all undesirable in redraft leagues this year.

Tight Ends

PLAYER ADP FITZ RANKING ADVICE
Tyler Higbee N/A TE38 Nah

Second-year tight end Tyler Higbee might have had some endgame appeal in deeper leagues if the Rams hadn’t drafted Gerald Everett in the second round this spring. Everett has impressive athletic traits and is consider a true pass-catching tight end, but as a largely unpolished rookie from a small-college program (South Alabama), he won’t offer fantasy help in 2017.

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