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The Atlanta Falcons signed Todd Gurley to a one-year, $5.5. million contract on March 20 after he was released by the LA Rams. Gurley and the Rams had agreed to a 4-year, $60 million contract back in July 2018, and despite the former Georgia product rushing for 3,413 yards and 42 touchdowns in his past three seasons with the team, LA decided to cut him to avoid a $17.2 million cap hit in 2020. With the amount of guaranteed money in his contract, there was a minimal trade market for the former offensive player of the year. It's no secret that NFL running backs have a limited shelf life, and the Rams decided to deny conventional economic wisdom when they gave him a massive contract. The Falcons may have gotten a steal with that one-year deal for Gurley, though. The market consensus will be down on Gurley after his anti-climactic end to his LA career, but could the former clear-cut first overall pick for fantasy be a steal in 2020?

2019 Recap

857 12 31 207 2 219.4 14.6

Gurley struggled in 2019 to establish the same level of success as recent seasons for a variety of reasons. The Rams' offensive line took a massive step back, ranking 19th in run-blocking in 2019 after being the top-rated team in that regard in 2018 per Football Outsiders. Gurley's history of knee issues certainly limited his production as well, and this will continue to be a factor to watch as he has suffered from knee issues since he tore his ACL while at Georgia in 2014. Gurley's 31 receptions were his lowest mark since his rookie season, as well, and that lack of passing game work certainly limited his fantasy production. Still, as the RB14 in PPR leagues, he was a pretty useful fantasy asset.

2020 Projections

860 9 55 420 3 249 15.5

The first thing that stood out to me in projecting the 2020 Falcons offense was their porous offensive line. They ranked 24th in run-blocking in 2019, and haven't made any significant additions to their line this offseason. Devonta Freeman was only able to manage 3.6 yards per carry behind this line last year. I'm giving Gurley a boost in receptions as I expect the Falcons to be involved in a lot of higher-paced, offense-oriented games (more on that in a bit), but I don't see him establishing elite efficiency behind this line so I don't love his chances for a massive yardage total on the ground.

Atlanta Falcons Offense

The Falcons managed 23.8 points per game in 2019, good for the 13th-best mark in the league. Their defensive inconsistencies (9th-most points allowed) made them rely on their offense to win games, and that should continue this upcoming season. Matt Ryan is coming off another solid season with about 4,500 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are the stars of this offense on the outside, and the strength of this passing game should keep teams from being able to stack the box against the run. Freeman ran against stacked boxes on 22.83% of plays last year, which was about 2% fewer than Gurley did in Los Angeles. The departures of Hooper (75), Freeman (59), and Mohamed Sanu (33) also leaves plenty of receptions up for grabs (167 total), some of which will undoubtedly go to Gurley. Alex Mack and Jake Matthews anchor the offensive line which often struggled in 2019, but starters Chris Lindstrom (right guard) and Kaleb McGary (right tackle) were both rookies last year, and as first-round picks both should improve significantly in 2020. The other running backs on the roster, Brian Hill and Ito Smith, are not high-level talents and shouldn't cut into Gurley's work next season provided he can stay healthy.

Strength of Schedule

The Panthers couldn't stop a running back if his hands were tied behind his back in 2019, allowing the most fantasy points to that position in the league, and Luke Kuechly, their defensive leader is recently retired. Gurley should feast in those matchups. Things could get dicier against the Bucs (2nd fewest) and Saints (4th fewest) in the NFC South, though, who both ranked among the teams with the fewest points against scored by running backs. The majority of the Falcons' schedule in 2020 ranked middle-of-the-pack in fantasy points allowed to running backs with the Vikings, Seahawks, Raiders, Cowboys, Packers, Chargers and Bears on tap. There is some elite defensive line talent among that group, and some of those teams feature elite offenses as well which could lead to poor game script in terms of featuring handoffs to Gurley in the offensive gameplan. It's a little too early to have a complete picture of strength of schedule, but the Falcons' opponents don't seem overly daunting in 2020.

Bottom Line

Todd Gurley is only 25, and he's received 1,265 carries in his career. From a historical standpoint, he shouldn't be falling off the cliff just yet. And yet, we just saw him produce his worst numbers since his sophomore season and him returning to his elite production of 2017 and 2018 may be wishful thinking. Gurley should be heavily utilized in the red-zone on a team that was adept at getting there in 2020, but I'm worried his volume won't be high enough for him to produce his previously elite numbers. He has everything to prove after being cut by his former team and signing just a one-year deal, so he will be highly motivated to perform this season, but there are certainly some concerning factors (lack of offensive line talent, injury history) that could limit his overall fantasy upside.

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