Travelle Gaines has been the mastermind behind Todd Gurley's workout regimen for the past three years. The Los Angeles-based trainer has been part of the inner circle tasked with laying out and implementing programs to keep the prized running back healthy and performing at a high level.
Those programs became particularly important after Gurley's season was derailed in 2018 due to knee issues. Gurley sat out the final two games of the regular season, but even after three weeks off his workload dipped during the Rams' playoff run.
Not only did he play only 120 snaps and see 34 touches in three games, but Gurley was off the field for 22 of the Rams' 29 red-zone snaps. Worse still, he was uncharacteristically ineffective when he did get a chance averaging 3.2 yards per carry in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.
What's followed has been months of speculation about the health of Gurley's knee, including worries about arthritis being a factor. The Rams have tried to play it cool, but the decision to match veteran backup Malcolm Brown in restricted free agency and trade up to draft speedster Darrell Henderson while holding Gurley out of their entire spring minicamp program has not helped quell the concerns.
Gaines, however, doesn't believe there's any reason to worry.
"From my standpoint, Todd Gurley is fine," Gaines told CBS Sports in mid-June. " ... Everybody knew when Todd came out of Georgia that there would be some kind of arthritic component to his knee, which is part of every surgery, whether it's a shoulder, a knee, an ankle.
"He's now at the year-five mark, all we're doing is managing that. If we can pound him less in the offseason while keeping his weight down, working on his strength, working on his agility in short areas, that's going to give him a better chance to be healthy Weeks 14 through 17 when they really count.
While it's fantastic that Gaines and the Rams have a plan to keep Gurley going, it's impossible to overlook that a-word. Arthritis. We often associate it with the elderly, not with 25-year-old early-round Fantasy picks.
Doctor of Physical Therapy and CBS Sports injury analyst Dr. Brandon Bowers, who has not examined Gurley but is familiar with issues related to arthritis, believes Gurley can be effective if he can play through pain, but wouldn't expect his usual workload.
"For a running back, arthritis will be a matter of pain management, as running, cutting and changing direction will not feel as comfortable as they once did and may leave an athlete a step slower than usual," Bowers said. "When it comes to arthritis, pain is often the limiting factor; if pain can be effectively managed, the ability to play at a high level is still possible. The converse is also true — pain that is ineffectively managed can significantly hamper a player's level of effectiveness.
"Expect Gurley to see a decreased workload compared to prior seasons. There are going to games when Gurley feels good and has great Fantasy production, but there are also going be games that his production is only a fraction of what it once was."
Limiting touches makes a ton of sense and meshes with everything the Rams have done this offseason. By retaining Brown and adding Henderson, Los Angeles has the players who can keep Gurley from averaging the 22.5 touches per game he had in 2018.
But that concept is news to Gaines.
"It's never been told to me that there's a plan to decrease his workload come Week 1," Gaines said. " ... We're going to get through (offseason training) and it'll be like last year. It'll be based off how he's feeling. Todd is asked to do a lot in that offense, so to preserve him as much as possible is what the goal of the game is."
Part of that involves shedding some weight in the offseason. Gaines said Gurley is focused on trimming his body fat from 10 percent down to seven percent while putting on a little more lean muscle. It should, theoretically, make Gurley a little bit bigger and a little bit faster, according to Gaines.
That explanation doesn't seem to hold up with Bowers.
"Current research supports a correlation between body mass index (BMI) and osteoarthritis in the knees," he said. "Playing at 218 pounds versus 225 pounds may help to reduce pain and stresses incurred by the joint. Don't expect this weight loss to make a huge difference by itself, but in combination with additional interventions may help reduce knee stresses."
Arthritis, weight loss and additional help behind him — all signs point to Gurley playing in 2019, but not on the same diet of touches as we're used to seeing. Based on NFL history, and on his own history, that could mean weak numbers.
Since Sean McVay became the Rams head coach in 2017, Gurley has averaged 22.7 touches per game (22.5 last season). Common sense would tell you that if the team had their druthers, they'd get Gurley to average somewhere south of 20.0, maybe even lower than 18.0 per matchup, until they absolutely needed him for a playoff run.
Can he get 1,500 total yards and 10-plus touchdowns on that kind of workload? Since the NFL merger in 1970, there have been 221 running backs who have reached both marks. Of those 221, only 12.7 percent (28) hit that mark while averaging less than 20 touches per game.
What if we set expectations a little lower, say 1,200 total yards and eight touchdowns? Again, since the NFL merger, 470 running backs have hit those totals - and only 35 percent (165) did it on fewer than 20 touches per game.
Gurley himself has a disappointing track record when he has under 20 touches. In 28 career games with 19 or fewer touches, he's sunk below 10 non-PPR Fantasy points 15 times (53.6 percent fail rate) and under 15 PPR Fantasy points on 16 occasions (57 percent fail rate).
It's predictably worse if you adjust to 17 or fewer touches — in 16 career matchups with that amount of work, he's fallen under 10 non-PPR points and 15 PPR points a dozen times, a fail rate of 75 percent.
If the knee issue didn't talk you out of taking him in Round 1, these stats should.
Round 2 might not be such a great spot to draft him, either.
We can't definitively say Gurley will be his old self once he hits the field. You have to imagine his rushing and receiving averages dip with fewer touches to get into a rhythm and a potentially painful knee slowing him down. Gaines used words like "manage" and "preserve" when talking about Gurley's regimen. It's hard to expect him to be in top form delivering strong numbers when he's potentially practicing once a week. We also can't account for any new health problems he might have along the way, making him an increased risk to miss time.
Those who choose to overlook these issues will definitely be attracted to Gurley in Round 2. The risk-averse Fantasy crowd won't target Gurley until Round 3, if at all. Fantasy managers in both categories should have a very strong interest in Henderson later in the draft.
Fresh, fast, and facing a potential bonanza as a new toy in the Rams offense, the rookie is one of the summer's trendiest sleepers. If he's in a position where he's getting a dozen touches per game as a space-eating edge rusher and pass catcher, there's a lot of desirable upside considering his 8.2 rushing average and 12.0 receiving average over three seasons at Memphis. It's not wrong to consider him among the most alluring handcuff running backs.
If you take Gurley, you must draft Henderson. If you don't take Gurley, you must consider Henderson's upside. Fantasy sharks will start circling the newcomer in late Round 6.
Brown also offers fair value late on Draft Day, though it's expected he won't see a massive uptick in touches unless Gurley gets hurt. Not that he has a positive track record — in six games with 10-plus carries, Brown has zero touchdowns, zero 100-yard games and zero 10-point Fantasy performances regardless of format. Round 11-plus is the time for him.
The more Gurley sits in training camp and joint practices (forget about preseason games, which he will likely sit out for the second season in a row), the more worried Fantasy managers will be. Press conference quotes and videos of him running in practice won't raise his stock. Gurley isn't old by any means but running backs with an "arthritic component" typically don't have a long shelf life.
The Rams invested quite a bit in Gurley, so doing what it takes to get the most out of him will be their top priority, even if it costs him valuable touches and glorious Fantasy points. That makes it harder than ever for Fantasy players to invest in him.