A Shift in the Top Dynasty RBs: An Addendum
Previously I wrote about how the top dynasty running back rankings changed after the 2019 season. My rankings were as follows:
- Saquon Barkley
- Alvin Kamara
- Christian McCaffrey
- Todd Gurley
- Ezekiel Elliot
Read the linked article for justification. These five running backs are generally considered the top-five in dynasty in no particular order. The article was written after the Super Bowl when there were many a question surrounding Gurley and his health. Thus, Gurley dropped to four where many considered him the RB1 to start the season.
Since the article was published, however, further news has surfaced on the health of Gurley’s knee. A report has come out that Gurley has arthritis in his knee. Gurley tore his ACL in the same knee in 2014 at Georgia. The development of arthritis at a young age is common among those who have suffered significant trauma to the knee, i.e. tearing an ACL.
Gurley’s diagnosis combined with his usage down the stretch and in the playoffs is scary on the surface. However, arthritis is largely about pain management in athletes. In general, arthritis does not affect performance if monitored and managed correctly. But, part of the managing Gurley’s arthritis seems to be a reduced workload, according to the Rams.
Last season, even sitting out the final two games, Gurley saw 86% of the Rams targets to running backs. He 56% of all of the carries and 69% (nice!) of the carries among running backs. In 2017, those percentages were 86%, 61%, 79%. This is pretty much the definition of a “bell cow” running back. This obviously led to RB1 and RB3 finishes over the past two seasons.
This may not be the case moving forward. Both general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay have stated they want to manage Gurley’s workload. What does that actually mean? No one can really say for certain. One can assume, however, that he will not get near the touches that he was given in the previous two seasons. A crude, back-of-the-envelope calculation assuming 75% of his production from 2017 and 2018 puts him squarely as a top-10 running back in those two seasons. Again, purely based off of assumptions and guesses. Are top-10 finishes good enough for Gurley to remain among the top-five dynasty running backs? In my eyes, no. But then that begs the question who replaces him?
I believe the answer to the above question is currently Melvin Gordon. Of course, Gordon has an injury history of his own, with multiple knee injuries since 2015. However, until he shows signs of slowing down, Gordon is the next man up. I do think that guys like Nick Chubb or Joe Mixon can overtake Gordon in the next couple of years. But I have gone on record that I will take consistent, top-end production over one season of production and potential.
After a disastrous rookie season, Gordon has come back strong over the last three with three top-eight finishes. While Gordon was not the most efficient of players, mostly based on yards per carry. In each of his first three seasons, Gordon averaged less than four yards per carry. However, this does not tell the best story. After all, Ezekiel Elliot has averaged over four yards per carry in his first three seasons. But, Gordon still finished with better efficiency, or points per opportunity (PPO), than Zeke did in each of the last two seasons. In fact, Gordon had the highest PPO among him, Zeke, and Gurley in 2018.
The news of Todd Gurley’s injury and potentially decreased workload should give people pause about putting him in their top-five dynasty running backs. While I still expect him to be productive, he will not put up the elite numbers we are used to if this is the case. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon continues to chug along and seemingly has gotten better as his career has worn on. Gordon has had injury issues in the past as well, but there is no indication that the Chargers intend to take away his workload. As long as Gordon stays relatively healthy and continues to see a huge workload, he may well jump Gurley in dynasty rankings. Above is the case I have laid out. What say you?
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