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
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders posted a plus-7.2 percent catch-rate difference last year with the Broncos and 49ers and broke 850 receiving yards while fighting through press coverage on almost 30 percent of all routes run. He was also targeted in a tight window 20.6 percent of the time while covering an average of 23.5 yards per route run. In total, the veteran ran 481 routes and covered 11,303.5 yards while catching passes from Joe Flacco and Jimmy Garoppolo. The 33-year-old is getting up there in age, but he remains incredible efficient and has a great opportunity in New Orleans with Drew Brees now throwing him passes. Even though he doesn't score often, Sanders is an undervalued pass-catcher that could put up WR3 numbers in his new home.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders has his sights set on being named the MVP in 2020 while also maintaining confidence that he can serve as an effective three-down back for the team. Despite splitting time with Jordan Howard and Boston Scott last season, the sophomore back still finished with a respectable 818 yards and three rushing touchdowns off of 179 attempts. He also added 50 receptions for 509 yards and three additional trips to the end zone. With Howard no longer in the mix, the 2019 second-round pick has a chance to thrive as both a runner and a pass-catcher, making him a desirable selection in all formats, especially in PPR leagues.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown had an excellent rookie season and beat defenders with his combination of size and strength. Quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota had a combined passer rating of 127.6 when targeting Brown in 2019. Brown faced pressure at the line of scrimmage 38.3 percent of the time but still had 52 catches for over 1,000 yards receiving. Cornerbacks blanketed the young wideout on 33.3 percent of all of his targets, and he was open on just 25 percent of his targets. Brown finished strong to help fantasy owners get to the promised land, but don't overvalue him as a WR1 because of his strong first season. The soon-to-be 23-year-old should be a force in this league for years to come, but he had just 84 targets and remains in a run-first offense.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle had just 5.7 air yards per target in 2019, as the 49ers looked to get him the ball early and often to utilize his yards-after-the-catch skills. He racked up 641 (60.9 percent) of his 1,053 receiving yards after the catch. Kittle's average yards-per-catch mark of 12.4 was better than Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas. He had a catch rate of 79.4 percent and an expected catch rate of 71.8 percent. It's no secret that Kittle and Travis Kelce are the top two fantasy tight ends in the league, with both of them likely to come off fantasy boards in the middle of the second round.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay is projected to place third in the league in receiving yards in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus, finishing behind only Julio Jones and Michael Thomas. Golladay finished as the third-best wideout in standard formats in 2019 by compiling 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns off of 65 receptions. He was also one of the league's most opposing deep threats, averaging 13.6 YBC/R and doing so despite the prolonged absence of Matthew Stafford, who missed eight games with a back injury. With the longtime signal-caller seemingly back at full-strength, the third-place projection may be more accurate than not in 2020, with the potential for a top-two finish for the 26-year-old also a realistic possibility.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry caught 72.4 percent of the passes intended for him last year in his first season after tearing his ACL in 2018. He had a positive catch-rate difference of over eight percent and caught 60 percent of his targets in the end zone for three of his five total touchdowns. For a tight end, his 10.2 air yards per target would've been good for even the top receivers. Henry did this with a tight-window percentage of just 13.2 percent, so he definitely knows how to find the soft spots in an opposing defense. The 25-year-old has an issue with staying healthy, though, and he'll be dealing with a QB change in 2020. But if he can stay on the field, Henry should easily be a top-10 fantasy tight end.
While opposing defenses often pressed Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper at the line of scrimmage last year, he had an average of 2.6 yards of separation by the time the ball arrived. He also had a tight-window percentage of 25.2, but for the most part, Cooper was able to successful beat press coverage. Quarterback Dak Prescott had a 114.4 passer rating when targeting his top receiver, and Cooper had a 23.8 percent average of targets per routes run in Dallas' offense. Cooper had a catch rate of 66.4 percent and an expected catch rate of 57.8 percent. It will be interesting to see how the addition of rookie CeeDee Lamb will affect Cooper's efficiency and target share in 2020. The 25-year-old should be considered a low-end WR1 target in fantasy drafts.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. only had 779 receiving yards last season, but NFL.com's Nick Shook lists him as the fourth-best wide receiver from a year ago. Despite only having quarterback Matthew Stafford for half the season because of an injury, Jones had a catch rate of 68.1 percent and an expected catch rate of 57.7 percent. Detroit's backups gave Jones few chances to make plays, but the receiver still performed better than expected. He also missed three games due to injury. Jones also had the second-highest tight-window percentage (29.7) among Shook's top-10 pass-catchers but still managed a positive catch-rate difference. A full season with a healthy Stafford will make a huge difference, and Jones is going undervalued as a low-end WR3.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley had a catch-rate difference of plus-8.7 percent last year and did it while seeing double teams 5.4 percent of the time. Ridley also had a nice cushion on his routes, with an average of 6.6 yards at the time of the snap. Because of his 4.43-second speed, opponents rarely pressed him at the line of scrimmage, and instead preferred to cover him with multiple defensive backs. Atlanta's QBs had a 113.5 passer rating when targeting Ridley in 2019. An injury also limited the 25-year-old last season, so he could easily put up high-end WR2/low-end WR1 numbers over a full season in 2020, even with Julio Jones commanding the lion's share of the looks.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught just 63 passes in his final season with the Vikings, but he had a yards-per-reception rate of 17.9 on his way to 1,130 total yards. Diggs' catch rate of 67 percent wasn't as high as the top performers on NFL.com's Nick Shook's list, but Diggs had a plus-10.7 percent catch-rate difference by winning press challenges at the line of scrimmage. He was pressed on 42 percent of his routes run and had just 2.5 yards of separation on average. Most of Diggs' success in the Vikings aerial attack came in single coverage, and that could continue in his new home with Cole Beasley and John Brown helping to take some attention away from him. Diggs has home run potential when he catches the ball, but targets might be hard to come by from a QB that has been erratic in his young career. Consider Diggs more of a low-end WR2 in his first season in Buffalo.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett is ranked second by NFL.com's Nick Shook among the best pass-catchers of 2019. Lockett had a catch rate of 74.5 percent and an expected catch rate of 61.9 percent. His catch-rate difference was nearly equal to Michael Thomas, who was ranked No. 1 on the list. Lockett had more of an average cushion than Thomas, which aided in him having over four more air yards on average. Opponents rarely pressed Lockett at the line of scrimmage, however, because they were more fearful that he might beat them deep. Lockett owned the highest wide-open rate of the top 10 2019 pass-catchers at 22.7 percent. The 27-year-old can disappear at times and was hurt a bit by D.K. Metcalf's emergence in the second half, but he should remain a strong WR2 in 2020 with one of the best QBs in the game in Russell Wilson still throwing him passes.
Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake is poised to have a big season in 2020 but is hesitant to put a limit on his potential. "I feel like my ceiling is as high as I'll take it. I can't do anything but put the work in right now and then also take that into whenever the season starts," he said while speaking to reporters in a video conference. The 26-year-old was dealt from the Miami Dolphins in October of last season. Throughout his first eight games with the organization, he compiled nearly 700 rushing yards, while also racking up eight touchdowns. He is slated to be picked somewhere in the second round in fantasy drafts for the 2020 campaign but could exceed his ADP potential, especially with the progression of second-year signal-caller Kyler Murray and the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins.
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs has been pegged by NFL.com, contributing columnist Adam Schein to win the league's rushing title. While it is a realistic expectation, he will have some tough competition with the likes of Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Ezekiel Elliott, and Christian McCaffrey--among others. The 22-year-old appeared in 13 games in 2019 and battled a shoulder ailment for a good portion of the season. He finished with 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns on 242 attempts and was one of the most elusive runners after contact. Regardless of whether he finishes as the top rusher, he is projected to be one of the league's top fantasy producers at his position, especially with the team beefing things up on the receiving end by drafting Henry Ruggs III in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin will outperform both Michael Thomas and Julio Jones in 2020, at least according to NFL Network's Michael Robinson. Godwin finished third in the league in receiving yards in 2019, compiling 1,333 yards, while also ending as the second-best fantasy receiver in all formats. However, with the gunslinging Jameis Winston now gone in favor of former Patriot Tom Brady and the addition of Rob Gronkowski, it is not unrealistic for the 24-year-old to take a step back this upcoming season.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill has been focusing on his conditioning this offseason, with the 26-year-old incorporating yoga into his workouts twice a week. Hill missed four games last season due to a shoulder injury, so whether or not his new routine will pay off won't be known until the season concludes. The former fifth-round pick took a step back in 2019, finishing the year with 860 yards and seven touchdowns off of 58 receptions. While Hill is projected to be one of the first receivers off the board in fantasy drafts for the 2020 campaign, the former Tiger will have to fight for looks from Patrick Mahomes on a Chiefs' squad that's loaded on the offensive end.
The Arizona Cardinals signed former Chargers wide receiver Dylan Cantrell to an undisclosed deal on Monday. Cantrell played for Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, and it sounds as though he might move to tight end with his new team. Cantrell was 6-foot-3, 226 pounds coming out of college and will be a developmental player for the Cardinals. Turning 26 this month, Cantrell has never played in a regular season game at the NFL level and will have a big mountain to climb in Arizona in order to change that, but he brings size and athleticism to a roster that already has a ton of playmakers in the passing game.
Las Vegas Raiders first-round rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (thigh) was involved in an off-the-field accident while helping a friend move, but sources say "he's OK." Ruggs was cut and received a puncture, but the wound isn't serious and it sounds as though he'll be completely fine for whenever teams are allowed to meet for the first time for on-field activities. AL.com is reporting that Ruggs is on crutches after the incident because he hasn't spoken to doctors yet amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Raiders are aware of the incident but aren't commenting. Ruggs was taken 12th overall in April's draft after catching 98 passes for 1,716 yards and 24 touchdowns in his career at Alabama. He'll have opportunity in his rookie season and should immediately be fantasy relevant in single-year formats as a big-play WR3/4.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry recently received some noteworthy praise from former Giants great, Tiki Barber. The legendary runner was quoted saying, "If I were picking a running back, aside from Christian McCaffrey, I would take Derrick Henry," when asked who he would prefer if he were an NFL general manager. The former second-round pick finished with 16 rushing touchdowns, tied for first with Aaron Jones, and also won the rushing title. While he isn't a reliable week-to-week pass-catching option, his 968 yards YAC makes him a bruising force for fantasy owners. Expect him to go somewhere in the first round in fantasy drafts for the 2020 campaign in all formats.
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.