How the mighty have fallen.
It wasn’t that long ago when people in the fantasy football community talked about Todd Gurley like they talk now about Christian McCaffrey. Gurley had a phenomenal rookie campaign and bounced back from a sophomore slump with back-to-back elite seasons—2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns in 2017 and 1,831 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns in 2018. Then everything changed.
After rushing for 48 yards and two touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15 of the 2018 season, Gurley was listed as day-to-day with left knee inflammation and soreness. There were a lot of days in that “day-to-day,” as he missed the final two weeks of the regular season. He was then used in tandem with C.J. Anderson in the Los Angeles Rams’ first playoff game, but had only 16 combined touches in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl. A little more than a year later, he was cut from the team as a cost-saving measure.
Gurley landed on his feet in Atlanta and will be the Falcons’ lead back this season. What should fans expect from the soon-to-be 26-year-old in 2020? Let’s start with what the sportsbooks expect from him, Bovada in particular.
Rushing Yards: 924.5 yards (over -105; under -125)
Rushing TDs: 9.5 (over EVEN; under -130)
Those numbers are a far cry from the two aforementioned seasons, but are they somehow too high? Extra juice on both unders indicates bettors are leaning toward being less optimistic about Gurley’s 2020 output. Let’s dive into the numbers.
Any conversation surrounding Gurley must start with a games played projection. For this exercise, I’m assuming 14 games. He’s averaged 14.6 games played per season in his career, but it’s reasonable to err on the side of caution here. Next up is projecting rushing attempts. Looking at the per-game averages of Devonta Freeman in his last two mostly-healthy seasons and Gurley’s career outputs, it’s fair to assume he’ll get around 200 carries over 14 games—Freeman averaged 190 attempts per 14 games in 2017 and 2019.
Gurley averaged just 3.8 yards per attempt last season, but I expect a small boost to that number in 2020. He’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry over the last four seasons and that’s pretty close to what Falcons rushers as a whole have accomplished over the last three seasons. Using that benchmark, Gurley projects to have 820 rushing yards this season. He would need to play all 16 games to go over the posted total with a 16-game projection of 939 rushing yards on 229 carries. Given his knee issues and that we’re already working in a higher yards-per-carry average in 2020 than the last time we saw him on the field, the best bet is under 924.5 rushing yards (-125).
How about touchdowns? Piling up scores is something Gurley has always been known for. He’s averaging 11.6 rushing touchdowns per season in his career and has only one season with fewer than 10. So 9.5 seems like an easy bet, right? *Lee Corso voice* Not so fast, my friend.
The Falcons throw a lot in the red zone—Matt Ryan threw the third-most red zone passes in the NFL last season—and no Atlanta player has had more than four rushing touchdowns since 2017. Falcons running backs have eclipsed the double-digit rushing touchdown threshold only twice since 2012 and it was Freeman in 2015 and 2016—keep in mind Freeman’s per-14-game pace was 9.9 touchdowns.
There’s too much risk to place a wager on either side of the touchdown bet. My projections have Gurley down for nine rushing touchdowns, but a couple big games can be enough to push his pace to 10 and beyond. This prop is a stay-away.
It will be very intriguing to watch Gurley in a new uniform for the first time in his NFL career. Will he prove all the haters wrong and look like the Gurley of old? Or, will he further justify the Rams’ decision to let him go despite only being 25 years old?