Since he missed time at the end of the 2018 season and the Rams' playoff run, there has been at least a little worry about Todd Gurley and his knee issue. Normally, after an offseason of rest, a nagging injury is no longer worrisome, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Insider, Jay Glazer, recently reported that Gurley's knee issue is a real concern both for Gurley and for the Rams.
“Nope, it’s not overblown. I think the biggest test will be what happens early in the season. If he runs and it doesn’t blow up and the Rams are able to use him as a workhorse, then a lot of those concerns will go away. If not, they’re going to have to get a little creative. They would be wise to be prepared because the knee has gone through a lot from college to now, so they’ve got to brace for it swelling up again,” Glazer wrote.
Footballguys' injury guru, Dr. Jene Bramel, has weighed in as well:
Gurley himself says he is "feeling pretty good" but doesn't know "how I'm going to be feeling six months from now."
Although the Rams refuse to use the word arthritis, it's reasonable to come to the conclusion Gurley is dealing with a chronic, degenerative condition.
Many ACL injuries are associated with some cartilage damage (Gurley tore the ACL in his left knee in 2014). A reassuring MRI study usually means no ligament or meniscus injury requiring immediate rehab or repair to return. Most players have some degree of "wear and tear" in their joints. Stem cell therapy is controversial, poorly studied, and generally ineffective -- but often sought out by players looking to heal or regenerate poorly-healing tissue. And May discussions about managing workloads in a player who's already admitting he won't know how he'll be feeling after the season begins further underlines the concern.
I'm not painting a rosy picture here. However, while it's very likely the length of Gurley's playing career will be shortened by the condition of his left knee, it's still entirely possible he'll be able to play effectively in the short term. We don't know how significant Gurley's cartilage loss may be. Many NFL players -- including running backs -- manage cartilage loss and chronic inflammation well enough to remain effective.
But it's a near-certainty we'll see Gurley on the injury report frequently in the future. The Rams are already committed to limiting Gurley's practice workload and have already identified a talented back to limit his in-game workloads. 225-275 effective and possibly elite touches is still a reasonable projection. Unfortunately, it's unlikely Gurley can manage a 275+ rush and 80+ target season.
But what does all of this mean for your draft? We asked our staff that question.
I'm pretty perturbed this story was written by Glazer because Todd Gurley has been a clear avoid for me since last year's playoffs for two reasons:
- Gurley's knee isn't something that can be fixed through rehab and/or surgery. He'll have this for the rest of career and it can only get worse.
- Since they couldn't use him as normal during the playoffs and Super Bowl, the Rams clearly know they mismanaged Gurley in 2018.
Gone are Gurley's workhorse number of touches. Even if his knee never flares up, the Rams are going to manage his snaps to increase the chances he'll be productive in the postseason. I wouldn't be surprised if Gurley is nothing more than a third-down back very soon -- maybe even this season.
This update from Glazer leaves me unchanged on Gurley's prognosis going forward. I'm avoiding him in re-draft and in dynasty. If I already have him on a dynasty team, I'll wait for this news to fade a little and try to sell.
I’m completely on the other side here. Glazer’s report has zero new information. Gurley will be managed, sure, but all backs are these days. He’s still a good bet for 10+ touchdowns and 1200++ yards from scrimmage. My only hope is these reports keep coming so his ADP keeps falling. He’ll be on quite a few of my rosters if that’s the case.
If drafting right now, Gurley should be at least two rounds lower in rankings. This high in the draft, there are plenty of viable alternatives to a player who has question marks with his health. While Gurley was otherworldly for the early part of last season, he did plateau in the second half — even before considering the bottoming out that came with his balky knee.
Ideally, more time before the season leads to more clarity, but at this moment, he’s not worth the risk. If Gurley in the first round of redraft leagues is a $100 bill, the nickel that is Darrell Henderson is actually more exciting.
Henderson ran for over 1,900 yards last season at Memphis on only 214 carries (8.9 yards per carry). He also scored 25 touchdowns from scrimmage, further highlighting his big-play ability. The team has already said they want Henderson to be their Alvin Kamara.
A big-play-capable player in an offense coached by a brilliant mind who has already compared him to one of the league’s best is someone worth an investment — especially at ground-floor pricing.
The only thing that really has changed for Gurley with this condition is that it may shorten his career and mean his workload is managed from here on out. Remember, Gurley will be only 25 in season. Unless the knee injury he suffered is much worse than arthritis, there are probably at least two to three years of high-level production left for the young back. Keep in mind that there are other backs in the league who are playing with degenerative knee conditions. Sony Michel and Jay Ajayi also are playing with similar issues, but few people are panicking about their short-term prospects. Gurley’s upside remains quite high in arguably the most prolific offense in the league. Fantasy general managers should take advantage of the deep discount on Gurley in both redraft and dynasty formats.
This is the time of year that wild speculation runs rampant. I see things similarly to Jason here. There was an obvious issue at the end of the season with Todd Gurley, they drafted Darrell Henderson and therefore 2019 is time to jump off Todd Gurley? The guy will have just turned 25 at the beginning of the season and while his long term career may be in jeopardy, he is still one of the best running backs in the league. Wasn't Frank Gore likely to only play for a few years because of Arthritis in his knee?
Each player is different though and while I appreciate expert medical analysis, I will need to see that Gurley is indeed truly shot with my own eyes in 2019. I would be happy to take him with a high second-round pick and see what happens.
I know it’s May so we are desperate for stories, but this will answer itself. If Gurley can’t practice much during camp, his ADP will drop. If he’s a full go in practice, naysayers of today will relent and he’ll be back in the mid first round. For the scant few who are drafting teams right now, there’s no reason not to drop him a bit if you’re worried.
Until we know more, Gurley is a tough sell in the first round of redraft leagues. This situation takes on even more risk when we consider how disingenuous the Rams were about Gurley's condition, creating a lower floor and bust factor every week when deciding whether to play him in our fantasy lineups. He could end up being a squandered pick if his knee doesn't respond and there's no question that he has the highest risk of any player considered in the first two rounds. The reward appears to be No. 1 overall running back and scorer among non-quarterbacks when we look at his performance before his knee acted up against Kansas City. That probably doesn't apply this year with Darrell Henderson joining the backfield and the incentive for the Rams to pace Gurley's workload over the course of the year seeing as they expect to play in January. They won't ride Gurley to the extent they did last year, and volume was part of the formula that created his numbers.
The Rams still present one of the most potent backfield situations for fantasy and Gurley will be the first option, which shouldn't be underestimated when assessing value, so if the fantasy groupthink allows him to fall to the second round, he's worth considering, especially if Henderson continues to carry only a modest mid-round cost.
In dynasty, it's probably not a good time to sell. The negative tone has been fully integrated into understanding his realistic range of outcomes from here on out, so you won't find many fantasy players willing to pay even .50 on the dollar when compared to Gurley's pre-draft dynasty value. Ride this out and hope for a hot streak fueled by one of the best offenses in the league that either makes you a contender or creates a sell-high window. Henderson is an easy buy as a late first-round pick in rookie drafts.
Don't draft guys you already know are hurt. Change my mind.
Gurley definitely comes down in my eyes, easily out of the first two rounds. Generally speaking, I can live with a busted third-round pick, but my first two guys need to hit. Besides, even if Gurley suits up for 14-16 games, there's so little clarity over what to expect in terms of ceiling. He's a producer, tried and true, but we know he won't be gifted a bell cow's load every week. The Rams' addition of Darrell Henderson tells us that. There will be weeks of just 8-12 Gurley touches, with constant worry over whether he'll finish games - and the season.
In dynasty, though, I wouldn't bail. At least not today. What market could there be for him at this precise moment? Any haul he'd bring in from a shrewd leaguemate probably wouldn't quite capture the upside of another BIG Gurley season. I would need to bring back upside at scale (real RB2 potential or better). To be specific: if I were offered Darrell Henderson and a 2019 starter at wideout (say, Jarvis Landry), I'd at least consider it. If someone tried to take emotional advantage of these developments, offering me D'Onta Foreman or Ronald Jones, I'd pass hard.
For dynasty players, the events unfolding with Gurley's injury, arthritis issues, and subsequent selection of Darrell Henderson is an indication that Gurley's years as an elite fantasy producer are ending. For re-draft players, the best advice is to take a "prove-it" stance in regards to Gurley being able to manage his declining health and produce at a high level if you're going to take him as your first pick.
Curtis Martin was an example of a player who could do it but for every Martin, there are dozens of players who cannot. The "prove-it" stance for Gurley is the best decision because he didn't have surgery on the knee and it was blatantly obvious from the moment he was hit near the sideline of the Chiefs game that he was hurt.
When I saw that hit, I truly thought he tore something (he did and didn't tell anyone) and his season was over. While his season wasn't over because he continued playing, Gurley was walking wounded on the field for the rest of that game and, after a strong outing against the Lions after two weeks rest, the quality of his play declined significantly.
Gurley's gameness isn't a question for me. In the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, I shared an anecdote about Gurley's willingness to play through injury as far back as high school. However, it's a telling indication of the sacrifice he's already put his body through and the issues with his knees are likely tied to the already existing weaknesses with his ankles:
There’s only one real question about Todd Gurley: Can he stay on the field? Prior to the November 2014 ACL tear, Gurley essentially missed five games in 2013 with ankle and thigh injuries and there was a genuine discussion if Gurley would participate in the following spring practice.
Watch any Georgia game over the past three seasons. Even if Gurley didn’t miss more than a series or two, he routinely left for the locker room or sat on the bench as trainers checked him out for injury. Don’t be surprised if the oft-injured tag is whispered among anonymous scouts and general managers within weeks of the NFL Draft.
The running back position can be brutal on the body. Just seeing what Curtis Martin, Tony Dorsett, and Earl Campbell are up to these days promotes that conclusion. It takes a high degree of competitiveness to successfully play the position in the NFL because “healthy” is a relative term for pro football players and an extraordinarily loose term when applied to runners.
There is some evidence that Gurley is a game competitor. One of these anecdotes comes from Gurley’s senior year in North Carolina. The week before its state title game against Lincolnton, the Tarboro, North Carolina star earned just 33 yards in the semifinals after injuring both ankles in the second game of the playoffs. According to Ken Bradley of the Sporting News, Gurley had three sprains on two ankles and “could barely run straight ahead.
The rest is a portrait of Gurley’s gameness:
He didn’t practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday the following week in preparation for the title game. He gave it a shot at Friday’s practice.
“We were practicing against Lincolnton’s screen and Todd picked it off and just took off like a deer running down the sidelines and [lifted] the whole spirit of the team,” [Tarboro high school coach Jeff ]Craddock paused, “It was amazing, the uplift. I said, ‘Todd, you’re done.’ That was all I really needed to see.”
The following afternoon, Gurley dominated the Lincolnton defense. When the day was done, the stat line on Gurley read: 242 rushing yards, four touchdowns, and a 39-36 state title victory. To those who watched, Gurley was part Julius Peppers, part Ethan Horton. He had etched his name among the great high school players to come through North Carolina.
“We saw film on the previous week and he could barely walk,” Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger says. “I didn’t expect him to be at the speed he was at. For someone to be injured—and he was injured—and perform like he did on that Saturday afternoon … that was just unbelievable.
“I was told both of his ankles were injured. If he’s unhealthy and looks like that, then he’s almost Superman.”
In a way. this story could be both a good and a bad statement about Gurley. The last time I watched a running back produce while dealing with multiple ankle sprains was Marshawn Lynch’s 20-88/5-21-1 effort against USC in 2006. The Seahawks’ bell cow has to warm up his back every week and sometimes misses the first two series of games but rarely missed time during the past three seasons while Seattle leaned hard on him.
In this sense, Gurley is capable of managing pain and performing at a high level. However, he’s also had at least four ankle sprains since high school. One of them cost Gurley four games in 2013. Too many ankle injuries can stretch the ligaments to a point of needing repair—and we all know the result of surgery still isn’t a “good as new” proposition.
On an optimistic note, most running backs suffer numerous minor ankle sprains during their careers, but only 1-2 major roll-ups. Hopefully, most of Gurley’s ankle injuries have been minor. Based on his 2014 play, I would guess this is the case, but ankle concerns are worth noting about a player projected as an early draft pick.
Because Gurley didn't opt for surgery and he spent the second half of the 2018 season playing on a knee sprain, essentially hiding it from the Rams' staff, he's the type of player that will continue to go until coaches force him off the field. These type of players often push too hard through injuries to play.
At the same time, if we eliminate all of the doom-and-gloom speculations and examine the situation short-term, Gurley sprained his knee, played through it and had the offseason to recover. From this perspective, Gurley should return to form.
If his ADP continues falling to the end of the first round/early part of the second round, I'd embrace the risk and take Gurley this year. However, regardless of Gurley's 2019 prospects, I'm also taking Darrell Henderson.
Henderson is a strong long-term fit for the Rams wide zone scheme. He can also play the Alvin Kamara role as a change-of-pace and satellite back who works from the wide receiver position pre-snap towards the backfield and earns fly sweeps and swing passes in addition to a smaller diet of plays designed for Gurley.
The Rams need more players who can create mismatches from a variety of spots of the field. The design of the offense is to make a lot of its plays look the same during the pre-snap phase and rely on a smaller variety than other teams.
By the way, Sean McVay's hubris to think he could run the same four to six plays against New England's grandmaster of a coach was the single biggest reason for the loss; not Jared Goff. Although foolish, McVay is a smart guy and he realized in hindsight that he must expand the playbook as well as present additional mismatch options from these similar-looking plays.
Henderson will be that guy this year and moving forward. He'll also thrive as a wide zone runner if Gurley gets hurt and can still be used like Kamara when the Rams substitute Gurley with Malcolm Brown, who can do a solid Mark Ingram II impersonation.
With Henderson, the Rams don't need to give Gurley as high of a volume of touches. Instead, the team can focus more on high-leverage opportunities.
Dynasty and re-draft players probably have one or two more years of top-10 to top-20 performances from Gurley. However, I think the years of top-five production are over unless the Rams are in must-win scenarios and Henderson gets hurt.
The best way to view Gurley's value moving forward is as a souped-up Mark Ingram II whose role will be similar when Ingram was in New Orleans and production potential will be in the upper reaches of Ingram's -- fantasy RB6-12.
This Todd Gurley saga reminds me of drafting LeVeon Bell last season. Too many question marks for me right now, and I prefer the likes of Conner, Cook, and Mixon in the second round over Gurley.
I like taking my chances right now with Henderson in the 8th round and Malcolm Brown even in the 18th round.
My take is that the reward isn't worth the risk until early in the 2nd round based on what we know right now.
One of the great things about Gurley was that he played almost every down. He played 86% of the snaps last season and that would have been even higher but for some blowouts where he sat the 4th quarter. He was 89%+ in the majority of the games and even played every offensive snap in one game.
Even if Gurley is healthy, you have to assume that is a thing of the past, especially if Henderson is impactful. Even if Henderson is more Austin Ekeler than Alvin Kamara, the Rams are probably going to want to get him on the field for 25-30% of the snaps and give him a lot of the passing-down work. They need to make sure they have Gurley late in the season and I'd be shocked if they don't manage his workload. It feels to me like Gurley's realistic upside with fewer snaps and fewer targets is more in the David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, and Joe Mixon range and those guys all carry a lot less risk so I'm taking any of them over Gurley.
The tougher question for me is Gurley vs. James Conner and Dalvin Cook. I think both of those guys are probably headed more toward like a 70/30 type split as well and won't be true workhorse types. Both are a bit less risky but probably have less upside. If I was drafting tonight, I'd probably go Conner over Gurley but have Gurley over Cook.