The 2018 fantasy football playoffs have been an absolute nightmare on the injury front. Several key players like James Conner, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen have missed significant time during the most crucial portion of the fantasy football season. Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley suffered a knee injury in Week 15 and missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practices. While he’s not yet ruled out for Week 16, it’s looking more and more likely that John Kelly will get the start against the Arizona Cardinals.
Kelly will have the opportunity, but can you feel comfortable starting him? Handicapping a stud is always a good thing, but Kelly’s a third-string running back with two career carries to his name. Some fantasy owners may have no choice but to start Kelly while others may be weighing their options. Let’s take a look at who John Kelly is and what you can expect from him in championship weekend.
Fantasy Football: What to Expect From John Kelly In Championship Weekend
First off, let’s establish that Kelly only has value if Todd Gurley cannot play. If Gurley gets the green light in Week 16, Kelly shouldn’t be anywhere near your starting lineup. Once seen as a lock for a playoff bye, the Rams now find themselves 11-3 heading into Week 16. The New Orleans Saints are 12-2 and have the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Rams won’t be able to jump them in the standings. The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, sit at 10-4 and also have the head-to-head tiebreaker.
If the Rams drop one more game and the Bears win out, the Rams will have to play on Wild Card weekend. No team wants to do this, so Los Angeles will give everything they have to win Week 16. Gurley gives the Rams the best chance to win, so he will see as many snaps as humanly possible.
That said, it’s looking more and more likely that Gurley won’t be able to suit up in Week 16. Gurley doesn’t necessarily need to practice in order to play, but it’s very concerning that he’s not practicing. Kelly will be the primary beneficiary in the backfield, as Malcolm Brown is out with an injury of his own.
John Kelly, the Player
As previously mentioned, John Kelly has just two carries for four yards during the regular season. That’s obviously too small of a sample to judge, so we’ll need to look at non-regular season action to see what he can and cannot do.
Back at the University of Tennessee, Kelly only saw a full workload during his Junior season. During that campaign, Kelly recorded 189 carries for 778 yards and nine touchdowns. Additionally, he proved his worth in the passing game by recording 37 receptions for 299 yards.
As a runner, Kelly is a tough, physical guy who runs through tackles and falls forward when he goes down. He’s not the fastest guy in the world and he lacks the explosiveness of a player like Todd Gurley. However, he’s more than capable of being a reliable backfield presence, especially if the offensive line opens holes for him. Kelly thrives at breaking tackles, and it’s significantly harder for defensive backs and smaller linebackers to bring him down than it is for defensive tackles.
Kelly showed that his skills can carry over into the NFL during preseason action. While the preseason is obviously much different from regular season action, Kelly still performed well in his first taste of NFL football. Playing in three games, Kelly recorded 46 carries for 197 yards and three touchdowns, good for a healthy 4.3 yards per carry. Again, preseason action isn’t nearly the same as the regular season, but it’s the best we can go off for judging Kelly’s ability.
Of course, a running back is only as good as his matchup. Fortunately, Kelly faces one of the best matchups in the league. Kelly and the Rams travel to face the woefully incompetent Arizona Cardinals. At 3-11, Arizona is terrible at just about everything. Defensively, they allow the second-most fantasy points per game to the running back position. Football Outsiders tells a similar tale, as they currently rank Arizona as the 24th-best team at defending running backs.
Even if the Rams had an average offensive line, this would be a favorable matchup for Kelly. However, the Rams offensive line is currently the top-ranked run blocking unit in football. The Rams should consistently win at the point of attack, meaning Kelly will just need to follow his blocks to put up some serious numbers. The Rams should create massive holes all day long, and Kelly certainly has the ability to go through those.
Additionally, the projected game script plays to Kelly’s favor. Arizona’s offense is just as bad as their defense. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen is getting murdered behind a nonexistent offensive line, and running back David Johnson has nowhere to run. The offense averages a league-worst 13.7 points per game, so this match should be decided long before the clock strikes zero.
Because of this, the Rams probably won’t want to throw the ball that often. Los Angeles will just want to get out of Arizona with a win, and the fastest way to do that is by killing the clock with the run game. Arizona cannot stop the run and they can’t score enough to make the Rams throw the ball. Kelly could easily see upwards of 20 to 25 touches, and there’s no reason to believe Arizona is capable of stopping him.
Last Word on John Kelly in Fantasy Football
It’s hard to trust a guy with just two career carries in the fantasy championship, but John Kelly is certainly worth a start if Todd Gurley cannot play. Back in college, Kelly was physical, hard-nosed runner capable of knocking over defenders and delivering vicious hits to anyone who tried to tackle him. While he’s on the slower side, he’s certainly capable of being an NFL running back. The preseason showed that his skills can transfer to the NFL, as he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 46 carries.
Additionally, Kelly has perhaps the best matchup in the league. The Arizona Cardinals are terrible against running backs, allowing the second-most points per game to the position. On top of that, the Rams have the best run-blocking offensive line in football, per Football Outsiders. The Rams should win in the trenches on just about every snap, and all Kelly needs to do is follow his blocks. Additionally, this game should be a blowout, so Los Angeles will probably run the ball the majority of the game to kill clock.
If Todd Gurley plays, this all goes out the window. However, since Gurley missed the last two practices, he very well could miss Week 16’s action. Gurley carried several teams to a championship, now it’s time to let his backup finish the job.
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