- Todd Gurley's knee issue, while minor, is arriving at the worst possible time for fantasy owners.
Most late-season NFL transactions pass with nothing more than cursory notice from the fantasy community. Here’s just a sampling of transactions that have taken place since Week 15 wrapped up:
The Packers claimed running back Kapri Bibbs off waivers from Washington.
The Falcons placed running back Ito Smith on injured reserve and signed running back Jeremy Langford from their practice squad.
The Bills placed running back Marcus Murphy on injured reserve.
That’s a pretty standard transaction wire heading into Week 16. It’s mostly teams out of contention making moves on the fringes, often shutting down important players with the slightest of injuries, and signing their replacements from the practice squad. We’re not saying that’s what’s happening with Smith or Murphy, both of whom have legitimate injuries that would cost them multiple weeks in any circumstances, but the fact that their teams won’t be playing in the playoffs is also a factor, as is the time of year. In short, it’s pretty boring on the transaction wire in late December.
One move made this week, however, should have caught the eye of all fantasy owners, especially considering a player to whom the move is directly related likely has many of his owners playing for championships: The Rams signed free agent running back C.J. Anderson.
Anderson started this season with the Panthers, enjoyed a brief stay with the Raiders after being waived by Carolina and found himself without a job again in December. Not only is he now back on an active roster, but he has a legitimate chance to get a Super Bowl ring. Not bad for a guy who has been on three different teams and run for all of 104 yards this season.
Of course, we’re not concerned about Anderson backing his way into a Super Bowl title in the fantasy world. We are extremely interested, though, in what his signing says about the health of Todd Gurley. Or, to be a bit more accurate, what it says about how the Rams will deploy Gurley in Week 16, considering he’s at less than 100% because of knee inflammation.
In case you need to be reminded, the Rams don’t care that Week 16 is championship week in the fantasy football world. They’re focused on the NFL’s actual championship week, which is still more than a month away. If they’re going to be playing that week, they’re going to need Gurley not only to be healthy, but at full strength through the month of January. There’s no better way they can do that than by taking it easy on him the rest of the regular season, especially considering their opponents. The Rams visit the Cardinals in Week 16 and host the 49ers in Week 17. They can clinch a bye by winning both games, or by winning one and the Bears losing one of their remaining two games (at 49ers, at Vikings). Could the Rams do the unthinkable—from a fantasy perspective—and sit Gurley in Week 16? It wouldn’t be crazy. In fact, considering their goals, it would make a lot of sense.
Of course, this is all just speculation at this point. The team needs running back depth going into the playoffs, even if Gurley is 100% by then. It’s entirely possible he plays against the Cardinals, even though the team would remain a huge favorite to win the game without him. If he doesn’t, though, John Kelly becomes the most interesting spot starter in recent fantasy football history. Kelly, the rookie out of Tennessee, got the first carries of his career last week. He spent all year as the third-string tailback, the handcuff to Gurley’s original handcuff, Malcolm Brown. When Brown suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 13, Kelly moved one spot up on the depth chart. Now it’s possible that a sixth-round pick who didn’t get a touch until Week 15 will take center stage in fantasy’s championship week, stepping in for the league’s top overall player. This script would get rejected if you took it up the road from the Rams’ practice facility to Hollywood, but it could become reality in the next few days.