Todd Gurley was on the fantasy football radar way back in 2012, when he totaled 1,628 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman at Georgia. By the time his junior season was winding down last year, he was drawing comparisons to Adrian Peterson before that fateful day in late November when he tore his ACL. The injury caused him to slip to No. 10 in the 2015 draft, where the St. Louis Rams selected him.
A decade or two ago, a rookie coming off of an ACL would have left him as no better than a late-round sleeper in fantasy drafts. But this is 2015, when players recover from ACL tears in months, not years, and undrafted free agents pop up out of nowhere to make a splash in NFL backfields.
With that thinking in mind, I skipped right past the sleeper notion and pegged Gurley as my top breakout candidate for 2015. As I noted back in early August:
"The rookie could not have landed in a better spot, as coach Jeff Fisher has always preferred leaning on one workhorse running back. We also know that Rams rookies can step right in and have success at this position. Last year, Fisher got six games of 80-plus combined yards out of third-round rookie Tre Mason. The year prior, he coaxed four 100-yard games and seven TDs out of fifth-round rookie Zac Stacy. Unlike them, Gurley is supremely talented ... don't be surprised if Gurley sets the fantasy world on fire once he gets up to speed for the second half of the season and the fantasy playoffs -- when it matters most."
I expected Gurley to require at least a few more weeks to get his legs under him, but he broke out with his leap moment in just his second NFL game. On Sunday, Gurley racked up 146 yards on 19 carries (I'll save you the effort on the math: that's 7.7 yards per carry) and tacked on another 15 yards via a pair of catches. He could have added even more yardage, and perhaps a touchdown, but he gave himself up a couple of times late in the game to kill the clock and give the Rams a big win over their division rival Arizona Cardinals.
The numbers are nice, but watching his highlight-reel plays is what has everyone talking. Specifically, his 52-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter, when he showed that those All Day comparisons are legit by displaying speed, agility and power: blowing through the line at full speed, dodging a tackle with quick feet and fighting Tyrann Mathieu for an extra 10 yards before finally being brought down.
Other romps of 23, 12, 20 and 30 yards only added to the lore and promise that Gurley brings in fantasy.
Now, before we go overboard here, we have to note that the Rams' O-line remains a work in progress, plus he had four rushes for negative yards, and aside from those five big plays, he managed just 9 yards on his other 14 carries (I'll save you the effort on the math: That's not good).
I'm not too concerned about that, though. It was his second game as a pro, and they were battling a tough Arizona Cardinals defense. When I invest fantasy stock in a player, I'm all about opportunity and the ability to make those aforementioned highlight-reel plays -- and Gurley has both.
My expectation heading into this season was that Gurley -- as long as his recovery from surgery went as planned -- would come out of this season as at top-10 pick for 2016. So, obviously, I believe he will be an elite force for the second half of the season. The only issues for fantasy teams could be a few weeks in his schedule when the Rams face the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Weeks 11 and 12, respectively, and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16 (fantasy finals). Ideally, he will prove to be matchup-proof by then.
Anyone who has an non-competitive team in a dynasty league should do everything possible to secure Gurley for the future -- he is among the elite long-term targets. Acquiring him in a redraft league will be difficult after his Week 4 leap moment -- his owners surely will want a hefty ransom -- but it's worth trying. Ideally, he struggles in Week 5 at Green Bay before taking a Week 6 bye, allowing the shine to wear off a bit and lowering his price.
The bottom line is that fantasy leagues are won by having stars like Gurley, so enjoy the ride if you already have him on your roster.