THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- John Millman had just defeated 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer at the US Open, but the Australian-born tennis player, ranked 55th in the world, had a glaring concern.
“I’ve got a seven o’clock in the morning fantasy draft so I’m going to get up for that,” Millman said during a 1 a.m. postmatch interview. “I’m second pick. I don’t know whether to go Los Angeles Rams running back [Todd] Gurley or Le’Veon Bell.”
In all likelihood, the decision was probably made for Millman. There’s a good chance by the time his second pick came around, Gurley was already off the board.
Gurley is the consensus top pick in ESPN fantasy drafts.
A season after the Rams running back expressed displeasure over fantasy football -- “It’s always annoying. I mean, I don’t really care about it,” he said last September -- he has now fully embraced it.
Look no further than his Twitter feed, where Gurley’s 633,299 followers are treated to retweets of proud fantasy owners.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood recently tweeted a photo of the Dodgers’ fantasy draft. “Do I see #1 overall?” Gurley commented.
Indeed, he did. The Dodgers’ clubhouse managers, also part of the league, held the No. 1 pick and also debated between Gurley and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Bell, who is in a holdout because of a contract dispute.
So they went with the back who plays just down the road.
“We figured Todd Gurley was the safer pick,” said Alex Torres, the Dodgers’ clubhouse manager.
Johnny Pham, a 22-year-old account executive in Dallas, came to the same conclusion when he jumped on a Google hangout with college friends for their annual fantasy draft. Pham selected Gurley over Bell with the first pick, “He was a workhorse last year,” Pham said. Then he tweeted Gurley a shot of their fantasy board.
Gurley saw the mention and gave him a retweet.
“I was losing my mind,” Pham said. “I was playing Fortnite at the time ... I immediately took a screenshot of Todd retweeting it to all of my friends. It was my first time interacting with someone on Twitter that famous.”
Here too. It was a easy pick pic.twitter.com/8gvhRu9N53— Johnny Pham (@pham_johnny) August 29, 2018
Gurley, 24, wants to spread that kind of joy to fantasy owners everywhere when he and the Rams open the season against the Oakland Raiders on Monday at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
“I just appreciate all the fans that took me in the first round or even better, No. 1 overall,” Gurley said. “So try to show them some support and hopefully we can get the MVP for fantasy football again this year.”
Gurley helped owners win their leagues last season when he turned in a performance that also earned him NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns on 279 carries and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He also caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 12.3 yards per reception. His 19 total touchdowns led the league.
Owners were so grateful that many donated a portion of their winnings to charities supported by Gurley. Shriners Hospitals for Children said more than $50,000 was donated in his name, and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina said it received enough in donations to provide 8,350 meals to area families.
A repeat performance by Gurley, now going into his fourth season, is certainly within reach.
Before the start of training camp, Gurley signed a record-breaking, four-year extension worth $60 million, with $45 million guaranteed.
He’ll play behind the same offensive line as last season, with the exception of the first two games, as right guard Jamon Brown serves a suspension, and he has experienced a second offseason of work with quarterback Jared Goff in coach Sean McVay’s system.
Perhaps the only concern is that Gurley, along with the rest of the offensive starters, did not play a single preseason snap, with McVay deciding, among other factors, that he wanted Gurley to remain fresh throughout what could be a long season and deep playoff run.
But Gurley doesn’t seem too worried about a lack of preseason playing time.
In fact, he relished his final few days without getting tackled.
“I'm just waiting my time, enjoying my last couple of days before not being hit,” Gurley said. “It will be fun.”
And for any owners wondering where to send donations if Gurley manages to secure another victorious season for them?
“I'll give them my Cash App a little later on,” Gurley said, chuckling. “And then I'll figure out the charity.”
ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.