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Be wary of Todd Gurley

Why the consensus number 1 pick is not a slam dunk at 1.01.

USA TODAY Sports/Peter Rogers Illustrations

So you’ve landed yourself the number one pick in your fantasy draft, many congratulations. It makes sense you’d just go ahead and draft the player who has sat with the top average draft position all the way through the summer of 2018 doesn’t it? After all, Todd Gurley had a sensational 2017 season, finishing the year with one of the top-25 fantasy seasons of all time, and the third highest of the last 10 years. However if you find yourself in the unlucky (in my opinion) position of drafting first overall, I’m here to issue a word of warning of going with the obvious pick.

I have a few reasons why I believe Todd Gurley is not the number one pick in drafts this year.

The main reason I believe Gurley is not the number one pick in 2018 is pretty simple. Going back over the last 10 years, the running back drafted as the RB1 in fantasy drafts, has never finished as the RB1 at the end of the season. The below table shows the last 10 RB1s by ADP and their relative fantasy finishing rank each year.

RB1 by ADP and Final Fantasy Ranking

Year RB1 by ADP Final Rank
Year RB1 by ADP Final Rank
2017 David Johnson 128
2016 Todd Gurley 19
2015 Adrian Peterson 2
2014 LeSean McCoy 11
2013 Adrian Peterson 6
2012 Arian Foster 2
2011 Adrian Peterson 8
2010 Chris Johnson 5
2009 Adrian Peterson 2
2008 LaDainian Tomlinson 7

Even if you remove David Johnson as an outlier due to his Week 1 season-ending injury from last year, you still find that the average finishing position for the RB1 is the RB7. Not bad by any means but last year that was worth 117 fantasy points or 8.6 points per game between Todd Gurley as the RB1 and LeSean McCoy as the RB7, so a pretty big drop off.

Gurley himself failed to live up to expectations two years ago when he was also the RB1 in fantasy drafts after his impressive rookie season, before going on to finish the season as the RB19. Now there are a lot of differences between the Jeff Fisher Rams and the one Sean McVay now coaches, so I don’t expect the same drop off as two years ago, but its worth noting Gurley has been in this position before and has under performed coming off a strong year.

In terms of who the RB1 should be, when we look back over the last 10 years we find that the top scoring fantasy running back can be found all over the draft. The below table shows the top five fantasy running backs from the past 10 years and their closing ADP.

Only three times since 2008 has the top scoring running back come from with the top five drafted players, with Gurley himself falling to the RB10 in drafts last year after being RB1 in 2016. The Devonta Freeman breakout in 2015 was the lowest ranked ADP (RB42) who went onto finish as the RB1. Interestingly, he wasn’t even the highest drafted running back on his team in 2015, with Tevin Coleman going an average of 17 picks earlier than Freeman, as the RB37.

Probably even more unbelievably, the RB1 has only finished as a top five running back five times in the last 10 years, and only once in the last five years (Adrian Peterson, 2015). This suggests Gurley is not only trending to not be the best fantasy player in 2018, but is unlikely to even finish as a top five player based on history.

Personally, I see Ezekiel Elliot as the number one player on my board this year. Elliot in his short career has been the most consistently high producing player fantasy football has ever seen and this year we get a motivated player after last year’s suspension who is primed for a heavy workload behind one of the top offensive lines in football. I also believe Head Coach Sean McVay, who set the league on fire in 2017 with his offensive prowess, will have something different in mind for the Rams in 2018. Whether that means they will rely on Gurley less, or just use him differently to last year remains to be seen but doing the same thing tends to get you found out at the elite level and McVay just seems too smart for that.

Happy drafting and if you end up with the first overall pick, best of luck to you.