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ADP Showdown - Todd Gurley vs James Conner


Undoubtedly, the running back position will dominate the early rounds of fantasy football drafts this year. Which RB1 you hang your hat on could make or break your season.

Last year's regular-season fantasy MVP, Todd Gurley, has been free-falling throughout the preseason based on health concerns. James Conner has had injury problems in the past, but he now stands to assume the RB1 role in full for the Steelers with Le'Veon Bell gone.

While each carries massive upside, at some point you may have to decide which one will carry your team to the promised land. Let's see both sides of the debate to get the whole story.

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The Case for Conner

When it comes to redraft fantasy football leagues, the importance of taking a stud running back with your early picks cannot be overstated. Owning someone like Todd Gurley for his 2019 season is a massive advantage and can be the main reason that you win your league. On the flip side, owning someone that could potentially be missing games on a regular basis, can be extremely frustrating for fantasy owners. Nailing your first few picks in a fantasy draft can make or break your team and personally, I want a couple of players with those early picks that I think will be starting for my team week-in and week-out.

Conner runs behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL led by David Castro and Maurkice Pouncey, who both went to the Pro Bowl in 2018. He's also heavily involved in the passing game, which gives a stud running back that potential elite upside in fantasy football. Conner averaged 21.5 fantasy points per game in 2018, and he should see close to that number again barring injury.

Some owners are banking on a breakout from Jaylen Samuels, who is a former tight end turned running back. He should see some work, but not a significant enough amount that should worry Conner's fantasy owners. Samuels saw 29 targets in 13 games last year, while Conner saw 72. Even if these numbers increase for Samuels, Conner will almost certainly still get his 60+ targets and will have the red zone usage that you want to see from your stud running backs.

 

The Case Against Gurley

This year, Gurley has seen a significant drop in his ADP and has gone from the clear number one pick in drafts, to someone that is coming at a major discount, with a current FantasyPros ADP of 16 and the 10th running back off the board. The major reasons for this drop in price are the way he finished the 2018 season, the way both the Rams and Gurley both have addressed his knee injury, and how the team approached the position in the 2019 NFL Draft. There is no doubt that Gurley has massive upside for fantasy purposes, but there's definitely a case for taking another potential workhorse back with your late first-round or early second-round pick.

The issue surrounding Gurley and his knee is no secret. The coaching staff has talked about it, Gurley himself has talked about it, and the Rams showed their concern with the way they've addressed the rest of their backfield. The strange usage we saw in the NFC Championship Game last year and again in the Super Bowl is very telling. He also missed the final two games of the regular NFL season.

The reason that it is this concerning, is that despite it being crunch time, Gurley was essentially a non-factor and C.J. Anderson took the lead role. Many NFL players will tough it out and play through some injuries when they can, especially in the post-season when their team needs them most. However, Gurley was either not able to, or not trusted to do that. The Rams then compounded the issue for fantasy owners by proceeded to re-sign Malcolm Brown and trading up to draft Darrell Henderson in the third round.

 

The Henderson Factor

At 5'8" 208 pounds, the rookie out of Memphis, lands in a spot where he could potentially see the field immediately. Landing with the Rams is very intriguing given Gurley's uncertainty, and Henderson is more than just a guy. He is the perfect complementary type of back with great balance, smooth cuts, very explosive, and catches the ball well. If you watch his film, you'll find multiple 80+ yard runs where he hits a hole and goes almost untouched.

The biggest issue he'll face is his pass protection limiting his potential playing time. With the uncertainty around Gurley and the pedigree of Henderson, his ADP has skyrocketed to the point that it's far too high for me to touch. While the hype may be a bit out of control, there is a reason that Gurley's ADP has dropped so much while Henderson's has seen such a jump.

 

Reliability

The biggest reason that I'm avoiding Gurley at his current ADP is his reliability. When I'm drafting someone at the end of the first round or early second round, I want someone who I can plug into my lineup with confidence every single week. It is clear that the Rams are concerned about Gurley's knee and he may never see the workload that he did in 2018 again. Even if he is healthy and named the starter, he'll almost certainly see a decrease in his workload when he is on the field.

On the other hand, if he doesn't see a decrease in his workload when he is on the field, the chance that he plays 16 games is very small. Regardless of how you want to twist it, you're either looking at 16 games with a significant drop in carries or less than 16 games where he's active and he'll see a significant drop in volume over those games.

Conner may not have the upside that Gurley possessed in 2018 on a weekly basis, but you're looking at someone with a very safe floor and great upside in that Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers offense has had a top-six running back in each of the last five seasons. Whether it be Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, or Conner himself, the simple fact is that that offense produces elite running backs for fantasy football. We've all seen the stats comparing Conner to Bell and have seen that he has been just as productive, if not more so in certain categories.

 

Verdict

If you're on the clock and have the choice of Conner or Gurley, there are a few things to consider. More than likely, you had a late--first-round draft pick and have either a stud wide receiver or are lucky enough to have David Johnson or Melvin Gordon fall to you, depending on how many teams are in your league. Whether you're looking for your team's RB1 or RB2, the safer pick with just as much upside is Conner. Conner legitimately has just as much upside as Bell has had in the past as the lead back in Pittsburgh, and Bell has been a top pick in all formats in recent years.

Draft Conner over Gurley and rid yourself of the headache that Gurley is coming with. You want your stud running backs to be someone that you can plug into your lineups week-in and week-out, without having to think twice about it.

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