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Fantasy Football 2019: Advice on Todd Gurley, Top Players Returning from Injury

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2019

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley during an NFL football training camp in Irvine, Calif. Monday, July 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

There is always some element of uncertainty surrounding the fantasy football landscape. It can be frustrating, but it's also what makes the pastime so darn exciting.

Half the fun of drafting a fantasy football team is in trying to predict which players are going to break out, which rookies are set to shine and which guys are set to bounce back from disappointing or injury-plagued seasons.

Players returning from injury can often be the most unpredictable of the bunch. Last season, for example, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck returned from a year away to post 4,593 yards passing and 39 touchdowns. Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson, meanwhile, had a decent season returning from injury (1,386 combined rushing and receiving yards), but he wasn't close to being the 2,000-yard player he was in 2016.

Which players returning from injury are set to dominate like Luck? Which will disappoint like Johnson? Let's take a look at some of the biggest names and how you should view them during your fantasy draft.

    

Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley remains one of the biggest question marks deep into fantasy-draft season. He was hampered late last year by a knee injury, missed two games in the regular season and ceded many carries to C.J. Anderson during the playoffs.

The Rams appear at least a little concerned about Gurley's ability to bounce back—the re-signed backup Malcolm Brown and drafted Memphis' Darrell Henderson in the third round. For fantasy managers, it's fair to wonder how healthy Gurley will be in 2019 and what kind of workload he's likely to see.

According to Gurley, the knee isn't going to be an issue.

"It's good, man. it's good," Gurley said before training camp, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com. "...Once the season comes, you gonna see what happens."

While Gurley may not be quite the surefire top-five pick he once was, he's still worthy of a first-round selection in your fantasy draft.

Consider the fact that Gurley racked up 1,251 yards rushing, 59 receptions, 580 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns last season in just 14 games. He's likely to approach those numbers in 2019, even if he does give up a few touches each game to Brown and Henderson.

The drafting of Henderson in Round 3 raised a lot of eyebrows, but it doesn't mean that the rookie is going to take Gurley's starting job right now. In fact, given his struggles in the preseason so far—he's averaged just 2.5 yards per carry—Henderson may be a minor piece of L.A.'s rushing attack.

Gurley currently holds an average draft (ADP) of 19.6, according to Yahoo Fantasy. That's too low. If you can grab Gurley at the top of Round 2, do so.

    

Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

John Bazemore/Associated Press

While Gurley is the most notable fantasy running back working his way back from injury, he isn't the only one. Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman appeared in just two games last season because of a knee injury and, eventually, groin surgery.

Two years ago, however, Freeman produced 1,182combined rushing and receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. These aren't Gurley numbers, but they're good enough to make Freeman a starting-caliber fantasy back.

This is exactly what Freeman should be in 2019—and he may be even more productive than he was two years ago.

In 2017, Freeman split a lot of the backfield work with Tevin Coleman. While Freeman was the starter when healthy, Coleman carried the ball 156 times for 628 yards and caught 27 passes for 299 more. Coleman is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers, though, so some of those touches will now go to Freeman.

Of course, some of Coleman's opportunities will also go to second-year man Ito Smith, which is why Freeman shouldn't be considered an every-down back. Smith is still very much unproven and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie, so don't expect a 50-50 split either.

Freeman should be valued as a 1,000-yard player. He should be drafted right around his current ADP of 34.1.

    

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Frank Victores/Associated Press

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is a unique case in that he's coming back from a 2018 injury—he landed on injured reserve with a toe injury—and he's dealing with an injury suffered during training camp.

The latest injury led to ankle surgery, and Green is expected to miss some games at the start of the season. How many remains to be seen, but the fact that he's still in a boot is not an encouraging sign.

Ben Baby @Ben_Baby

A.J. Green was briefly in the locker room today. Still had a boot on his left foot and using the push scooter. Didn’t have an update on his potential return, either.

So how high should you value Green? Not very, and certainly not ha high as his current ADP of 70.2.

While Green may eventually return to health and form, becoming a valuable piece for a fantasy playoff run, it's not guaranteed. Ankle issues are problematic for any wide receiver, especially so for one whose biggest asset is his ability to separate deep. It's going to take time for Green to regain hist burst, potentially a long time.

Another obstacle for Green is that the Cincinnati has other rising players at the position. Tyler Boyd is coming off a 1,000-yard campaign and will be the Bengals' No. 1 receiver while Green is out. Undrafted rookie Damion Willis will start in place of Green early in the season.

Though Willis isn't likely to keep the starting job once Green returns, he could cut into his workload. If quarterback Andy Dalton has established any chemistry at all with Willis, the Bengals won't be quick to eliminate him from the offense.

The reality is that even once Green is back to 100 percent—assuming he gets there this season—he may no longer be the focal point of the passing attack.