Fantasy Football: After his 'sophomore slump,' can you trust Todd Gurley in 2017?

We all loved Todd Gurley as a rookie in 2015. And then we all hated him in his second year in 2016.

Can he get back in our good graces this year?

That’s the hope for Fantasy owners in 2017, and the Rams feel the same way. Speaking at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Thursday, Rams general manager Les Snead said the team’s goal is to get Gurley back on track.

“It was definitely a sophomore slump,” Snead said in a news conference about Gurley. “It starts with myself, did we put enough around Todd? It goes to Todd, did he do enough? It goes to the (offensive line), to the receivers ... it’s a ‘we’ thing. The offense is not just one player. That’s what this offseason is about, trying to figure out how we get him back to that rookie year.”

We hope Gurley didn’t leave his talent in St. Louis because he was great there but fell on his face when the team moved to Los Angeles. As a rookie, after a torn ACL in his final year at Georgia in 2014, Gurley was a Fantasy darling. He finished as the No. 5 running back in standard leagues and looked poised for stardom.

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Todd Gurley LAR • RB • 30
2016 stats
ATT278
YDS885
TD6
YPC3.2
REC43
REC YDS327

Despite not starting until Week 5 and only playing 13 games, Gurley had 229 carries for 1,106 yards (4.83 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns and 21 catches for 188 yards. He scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in 10 games, including five with at least 100 rushing yards.

He was touted as the No. 1 Fantasy running back coming into 2016, but he was arguably the biggest bust of the year. Gurley was able to finish as the No. 21 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, but he managed just 885 yards (3.18 yards per carry) on 278 carries and six touchdowns and 43 catches for 327 yards. He only had five games with double digits in Fantasy points and none with 100 rushing yards, and he now has just one game with at least 100 rushing yards in his past 24 outings.

So Fantasy owners have to decide if Gurley was really the star we saw as a rookie or just a one-year wonder based on his sophomore campaign. Unfortunately, the name mentioned when discussing Gurley is Trent Richardson, who was also a top 10 overall pick in the NFL Draft and played well as a rookie with more than 1,300 total yards and 12 touchdowns for the Browns in 2012 before completely falling apart and out of the league.

We don’t expect Gurley to suffer the same fate, but he needs a big year in 2017. And, as Snead said, he needs help.

The Rams already gave him a new coach in Sean McVay, who is tasked with turning around the worst offense in the NFL in 2016. McVay, who was the offensive coordinator in Washington from 2014-16, helped the Redskins finish No. 3 in total offense last year, although they were just No. 21 in rushing offense.

Still, Rob Kelley had double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in 4-of-9 starts in Washington, and Alfred Morris did that in seven starts in 2014 while rushing for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. Both averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry.

The Redskins struggled to run the ball in 2015 with Morris and Matt Jones, but none of the running backs McVay worked with in Washington have the pedigree of Gurley. And McVay is excited to work with Gurley, which is why he kept running backs coach Skip Peete on his staff at Gurley’s request.

But McVay also has to develop the passing game with second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who needs help in the receiving corps, as well as improve the offensive line. Pro Football Focus rated the Rams offensive line at No. 27 in 2016.

Gurley, barring a dramatic overhaul by Snead in free agency and the NFL Draft, will likely face the same challenges in 2017 that plagued him last year. Goff is still inexperienced, the offensive line and receiving corps still has questions and the Rams play in a tough division with Seattle and Arizona in the NFC West.

The good news for Gurley will be his price tag on Draft Day. Whereas last year he was the No. 2 overall player drafted on average on CBS Sports, he will likely fall to the second half of Round 2 in standard leagues and potentially Round 3 in PPR. We’ve done two standard 12-team mock drafts so far this offseason, and he was drafted at No. 17 overall in one and No. 18 overall in the other.

I have no problem with him in those spots, and I have him ranked as the No. 12 running back in standard leagues (No. 21 overall) and No. 13 in PPR (No. 28 overall). The later you can get him, the better off you’ll be.

What Gurley has in his favor is volume, and he should continue to dominate touches for the Rams in 2017. He averaged 20.1 touches in 2016 and 20.3 touches in 12 starts in 2015. If he can just average 4.0 yards per carry based on his same workload from last year then he’s looking at more than 1,400 total yards, which would be more than fine, especially with the chance to score double digits in touchdowns.

Is it a risk to trust Gurley based on what we saw in 2016? Yes. But it’s a risk worth taking based on his expected average draft position in Round 2 or potentially Round 3, especially with an offensive-minded coach in McVay compared to Jeff Fisher.

We’ve seen the worst of Gurley with his sophomore slump. We also might have seen his best as a rookie, but here’s hoping he can return to that level in 2017.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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