Mon Apr 6 7:20pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Rams' unceremonious release of Todd Gurley left an enormous hole in the middle of their offense.
Coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead don't believe they can fill it with just one running back.
The Rams intend to rely less on a single ball-carrier and more on a talented group of running backs in the upcoming season, McVay and Snead said Monday in their first public comments on their biggest offseason move.
“What we want to be is a team that utilizes more than just one workhorse running the ball, have a different genre of skill sets and a complimentary-type running game,” Snead said. “We have this big-picture vision, Darrell (Henderson) being a part of it, but we do expect other pieces to be a big part of it as well.”
Henderson, who barely played as a rookie third-round pick last season, is the top in-house candidate to replace Gurley, one of the NFL's most productive running backs of the last half-decade. Longtime backup Malcolm Brown also returns, and Snead indicated the Rams will be looking hard at running backs in the draft.
Running the ball by committee will be a major change for the Rams, who had Gurley at the center of everything for the past five years.
“We certainly don’t replace the production, the way that he’s influenced and affected the game,” McVay said. “But what we can continue to do is try to adjust and adapt.”
Gurley, the AP's 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, leads the NFL with 58 rushing touchdowns since joining the league in 2015. His 5,404 yards rushing in that stretch are 1 yard behind Ezekiel Elliott for the league lead.
That's an awful lot of production to replace, even after Gurley's numbers declined last season amid concerns about his left knee. The Rams were compelled by payroll constraints and Gurley's waning production to release him March 19 before he even got to the first season of his four-year, $60 million contract extension - the largest in NFL history for a running back when he agreed to it in 2018.
That deal, which included $45 million in guarantees, will loom as one of the biggest tactical mistakes of Snead's eight-year tenure. But the GM still feels he did the right thing overall in paying his highly productive star.
“From a regret standpoint, there’s no way you can ever regret the yards he gained, the touchdowns he scored for us,” Snead said. “The championships, whether it’s two division titles or (the) conference championship. The Super Bowl appearance. That will be tough to regret. What I can say is, obviously I think we all wish the partnership could have lasted longer. But from a standpoint of Todd earning that contract, no, he did earn that. I think that showed up in the production and how he helped us win.”
The Atlanta Falcons scooped up Gurley with a one-year, $6 million deal officially announced Monday.
Gurley had his two best NFL seasons during McVay's first two years in charge. He rushed for a combined 2,556 yards in 2017 and 2018 while ranking among the league leaders in touches for his young head coach.
McVay said he never could have imagined being without Gurley at this point in their careers even a year ago. The coach faces a new challenge in the upcoming season without Gurley to rely upon - although in retrospect, that transition already began last year.
When Gurley's touches and production declined last season, McVay steadfastly claimed Gurley was healthy and capable of doing whatever the Rams needed, even after Los Angeles finished with the NFL's 26th-ranked rushing offense behind an injury-riddled offensive line.
On Monday, McVay also expressed disappointment at the way Gurley's tenure ended in LA.
“There’s a lot of things that went into it, but at the end of the day, this guy has been instrumental in helping create a lot of the good things that are going on in our building,” McVay said. “Think he’ll do a good job for the Falcons, but in a lot of ways, it is a reflection on the confidence that that we have in those guys that are in place with Darrell Henderson, with Malcolm Brown.”
Snead acknowledged Gurley's departure is a boost to the Rams' plans to re-sign cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who arrived last season in a trade that sent the Rams' next two first-round picks to Jacksonville. Ramsey, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is heading into the final year of his rookie contract.
“Anytime you eliminate a large salary, it does help you onboard another large salary,” Snead said. “We’re a team that’s going through it: Usually teams that have success have players with relatively large salaries. You can’t pay everyone large salaries, even though you would like to be able to. But this isn’t college football where maybe you can just continue out-recruiting others. Sometimes you lose players."
“With Jalen, we’ve communicated with his reps, and we’ll keep those things internal. But we definitely like Jalen, as we said. That would be obvious.”
May 29th: Quarterback Preview
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon is expected to be one of the most impactful players in 2020, at least according to USA Today's Chris Roling. Roling anticipates big things from the 23-year-old, and points to the team's enhanced offensive line, an upgraded passing attack, and familiarity with second-year head coach Zac Taylor's offensive schemes as the reasons for an expected breakout. Mixon saw a regression in production in 2019, finishing with 1,137 yards, five rushing touchdowns, and 35 receptions. He managed to play a full 16 games for the first time in his career last season and is anticipated to be a first-round fantasy selection in all formats for the upcoming campaign.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich discussed whether running back Marlon Mack should have a lead on retaining the starting running back spot over rookie Jonathan Taylor in 2020. "Theres definitely inherent respect for the starter returning. And thats the way I see this.I see it as a 1-1 (punch)," Reich said. Mack and Taylor will form a one-one punch, but the Colts also foresee a big role for pass-catching back Nyheim Hines, so this could be a complicated backfield for fantasy owners to navigate. Reich mentioned Hines as a "role-playing starter." Even though Mack might be the nominal "starter" in Week 1, everyone expects Taylor to eventually take the lead in this backfield, making Mack more of an RB3/flex in the long run in 2020.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has been named as one of the league's most explosive runners, finishing second on a list compiled by NFL.com contributor Nick Shook. Cook was one of the league's most dominant fantasy producers last season, finishing fourth in rushing touchdowns and fourth in YAC across all positions. Despite the departure of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who is now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, the team's offensive schemes should remain intact under former offensive advisor and new o.c. Gary Kubiak. Expect him to be off the board within the first round in fantasy drafts for the 2020 campaign, regardless of format.
Washington Redskins second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin has impressed his new coach Ron Rivera so far. Rivera said that McLaurin has been, "a treat" and "a guy that could be on the verge (of stardom), he really is. He reminds me so much of a D.J. Moore that we had in Carolina. Just an outstanding young man." That's high praise from Rivera, who saw Moore get 135 targets in his second year in Carolina. McLaurin caught 58 passes last season for 919 yards and seven touchdowns despite seeing just 93 targets amidst mostly rough quarterback play. An uptick in targets would be excellent for McLaurin, and should be a benefit to quarterback Dwayne Haskins as well. McLaurin could be in for a huge sophomore season.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas set the single-season receptions record in 2019 with 149 catches. Thomas was also one of just four wideouts with at least 50 targets who posted a catch percentage that was 10 percent above expectation, according to Next Gen Stats. He also had the highest target total of 185, 28 more than anyone else. But Thomas had just 8.1 air yards per target and produced the second-lowest average cushion among receivers at 4.8 yards. Opposing defenses pressed Thomas early and often, but Drew Brees continued to target him in small windows. Thomas was targeted on 31.9 percent of his routes run. With Brees still around for another season and Emmanuel Sanders joining the club to take some attention off of Thomas, the 27-year-old should produce another outstanding season. Thomas should be the first receiver off the board in the first round of drafts.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich said that tight end Mo Alie-Cox will play even more in 2020 as a key run blocker and an emerging pass-catcher, despite the offseason addition of Trey Burton. "Sometimes you might think the basketball guy is a finesse guy. Mo is not a finesse guy he is a powerful man," Reich said. The 26-year-old has just 15 receptions (24 targets) for 226 yards and two touchdowns in 25 games for the Colts in his two seasons in the NFL, but his role as a pass-catcher is expected to increase. However, even with Eric Ebron gone, the Colts still have Jack Doyle and Burton as capable pass-catchers at the position, so Alie-Cox isn't yet one to target in traditional fantasy leagues.
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell bulked up this offseason amid an 18-week workout regimen in Miami to put on 13 pounds after a disappointing rookie season that saw the fourth overall pick finish with 4.5 sacks, five deflected passes and 24 solo tackles. Ferrell was considered a reach in the top five of last year's draft coming out of Clemson, and his less-than-stellar first season in the league puts him on the spot to improve in his sophomore campaign. With added weight going into his second year, Ferrell hopefully will be able to use his frame to bully offensive tackles more frequently to help the Raiders improve their stagnant pass rush. You can ignore Ferrell in most IDP formats until he proves that he can get to the opposing QB more often.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley had planned on returning to Penn State, his alma mater, to serve as a coach for the team during spring ball before its cancellation due to COVID-19. While the 23-year-old had no intention of retiring early, he wanted to use it as a way to self-improve leading up to the 2020 campaign. Barkley posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season in 2019 despite appearing in only 13 games after battling a high-ankle sprain. With an enhanced offensive line and a new head coach for the Giants, the former Nittany Lion could be on track to finish the year as one of the league's top fantasy producers.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was recently labeled by general manager Marty Hurney as "a unique back," which ultimately served as the reasoning behind locking up the MVP candidate to a new deal. McCaffrey, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract in April, finished 2019 as the most impactful fantasy option, finishing the year with over 1,000 yards on both the rushing and receiving end. He led the league again last year by playing in 93 percent of the team's snaps on the offensive end and posting 1,019 YAC. The 23-year-old is projected to go first overall in most fantasy drafts this upcoming season, regardless of format.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury has had plenty of time to get more creative while designing new offensive plays during the COVID-19 pandemic this offseason. Kliff is one of the more mad-genius, offensive-minded guys in this league because of how he can put players in different positions to go out there and be successful and use your raw, natural ability to mirror up with the things the offense works best at, running back Kenyan Drake said. In Kingsbury's first year as head coach, the Cardinals had a 60.4 percent jump in points scored and a 91.7 percent increase in their number of scoring drives. They scored 25 or more points nine times in 2019 after doing so just once in 2018. With second-year dual-threat QB Kyler Murray at the helm and with a new No. 1 wideout in DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals could have one of the most explosive offenses in the league with Kingsbury calling the plays.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who is in a QB competition with Nick Foles, has handled the situation with aplomb and expects the two QBs to compete for the job whenever offseason workouts begin. "(Trubisky) has been really, really good in the fact that he's taken this head-on," Nagy said. "He's accepted it. He understands it." But even though there will be a competition, Foles is expected to have the leg up on the job after Chicago acquired him in a trade. The Bears also declined Trubisky's fifth-year option for 2021. But the 25-year-old will get a legitimate shot to prove he's the guy despite disappointing in 2019. The reality is that Foles has the bigger arm and more real-life and fantasy upside as a low-end QB2 if he wins the job this summer.
Miami Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki was one of four tight ends to see double-digit end zone targets during the 2019 season.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley averaged 131 rushing yards on 6.24 yards per carry in the final three games of the 2019 season, and he scored five of his eight total touchdowns in that span.
Fantasy Spin: Barkley battled an ankle injury in what was a disappointing sophomore campaign, but he flashed his upside in the final weeks. Not only is he a first-round pick in all fantasy formats, but he could be off the board as soon as No. 2 overall.
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has 17 rushing touchdowns in 27 career starts. Only free-agent QB Cam Newton (Panthers) has had more rushing touchdowns in his first 27 starts.
Fantasy Spin: Despite below average accuracy, Newton has been a high-end fantasy quarterback for much of his career because of his rushing stats. Allen may never reach Newton's level, but his running ability can keep him in the QB1 mix.
Los Angeles Rams WR Robert Woods registered 613 yards after the catch in 2019 - the third-highest total in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross averaged 7.3 yards after the catch in 2019 - tied for the fourth-highest average in the league among players who amassed 50 targets last season.
New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell has enjoyed a target share of between 17 and 18 percent in four of his last five seasons, with the only exception coming in 2015 (15 percent). His 17.3 percent share in 2019 was the second-highest mark of his career.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle has compiled two of the three best seasons for a tight end in terms of producing yards after the catch since at least 2015 over the last two years. His 871 receiving yards after the catch in 2018 are the most by any player over the last five seasons (and 208 more yards than second-place Travis Kelce compiled in 2016), while his 623 receiving yards after the catch in 2019 led all tight ends and trailed only Chris Godwin (629) among all players last season.
Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt ranked sixth among running backs with 44 targets from Week 10 until the end of the 2019 regular season. Additionally, Hunt's 49 slot snaps also ranked sixth among running backs in the league for the year despite playing only eight games.
Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley was on track for 66 catches for 853 yards and nine touchdowns on 101 targets prior to the Falcons trading Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots following a Week 7 loss. Over his final six games and before succumbing to an abdomen injury that ended his season prior to Week 15, Ridley's 16-game pace over the final six contests was 91 receptions for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns on 131 targets.
Fantasy Spin: Six games is a relatively small sample, but it provides a bit of rationale to those that believe Ridley could be this year's Chris Godwin. The third-year pro finds himself in a wonderful environment to make it happen, as Julio Jones will continue to command the most respect from defensive coordinators and Atlanta's defense may struggle at times yet again. As such, Ridley should be viewed as a high-end WR2 with WR1 upside.