2022 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: David Bell (Fantasy Football)
The strength of this year’s draft class has always been the wide receiver position. While there seems to be a consensus top-5, the next tier includes several day-two wide receivers who have had productive collegiate careers. One of those receivers is Purdue’s David Bell, who is currently The Fantasy Footballers’ WR8 in this talented class. A consistent producer since his true freshman campaign, Bell asserted himself as the lead receiver in his three seasons with the Boilermakers.
Let’s dive into Bell’s production profile, film, and fantasy outlook heading into the NFL draft!
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2022 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2022.
College Production Profile
When Rondale Moore suffered a hamstring injury in 2019, the Purdue Boilermakers needed someone to step up and assume the WR1 role for their offense. Enter true freshman wide receiver David Bell, who would take over as the lead receiver and never look back. In 2019, he eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards and averaged a 27.8% receiving yards market share. Breaking out in his first season, Bell recorded an impressive 18.7 breakout age, which would rank in the 94th percentile among all wide receivers drafted since 2010.
In a Covid-shortened 2020 season, Bell took a significant step forward despite the return of Rondale Moore. He would average a career-high 37.6% weighted dominator rating in 6 games, leading the team in nearly every receiving category. Naturally, when Bell set the bar that high, the expectation was that he would meet or exceed that number in his Junior season. Unfortunately, that was not the case as his touchdown market share dropped from 53.3% to 20.7% in his final season, leading to that significant decline in his dominator rating. The more important metric, however, is receiving yards per team pass attempt as that shows a player’s production and efficiency relative to their team’s offense. And as you can see in the table below, Bell’s production relative to that metric has improved every single season.
One knock on Bell’s production profile is that his peak season was never quite as dominant as some of the other receivers in this class. Ideally, we would have liked to see him exceed that 3.00 Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt mark at least once in his career, similar to a Treylon Burks, Garrett Wilson, or even Wan’Dale Robinson. Though where Bell’s profile shines is in his consistency as he was by far the most productive true freshman in this class while continuing to improve throughout his collegiate career. Keep an eye on his draft capital as that seems to be trending down as of recent weeks (more on that later). But regardless, it does not take away from the fact that Bell has been one of the most productive wide receivers in college football since 2019.
Entering the combine, no one really expected David Bell to be the most athletic wide receiver of the class. However, it was still slightly surprising to see him test below average on nearly every metric at the combine. As you can see above, his 4.65 40-time leaves much to be desired even at his height and weight. That would equate to roughly an 89.0 height-adjusted speed score, which is one of the lowest of this class. In addition, his shuttle and 3-cone grades were not much better either. I know I will sound like a broken record because I mentioned this in my Drake London and Treylon Burks profiles, but athleticism has one of the lowest correlations to production in the NFL for wide receivers. We should absolutely account for it, but production and draft capital still reign supreme. As a result, I would not fade David Bell entirely just because of his combine. As long as he still receives day-two draft capital, he stands out as one of the better receivers in this class due to his age-adjusted production profile.
What’s on Tape
If you followed along with my weekly Dynasty Report, you might already be familiar with my film-evaluation process. In short, I watch 4-to-6 games, taking notes on nearly every offensive snap that the player was involved in. Let’s dive in!
Games Viewed: 2019 vs Wisconsin, 2020 vs Iowa, 2020 vs Minnesota, 2021 vs Notre Dame, 2021 vs Ohio state, 2021 vs UConn, 2021 vs Oregon State
1. Bell’s efficient footwork and speed variation allowed him to win at the LOS and at the top of his routes
Bell is not necessarily the fastest receiver in this class. So instead of relying on his below-average vertical speed to beat the defense, Bell will instead adjust his pace, use his footwork and hesitation to set up the DB, and then suddenly accelerate to create separation. In addition, he is extremely nuanced at decelerating and accelerating at the right moment, frequently catching defensive backs off guard. This allows him to win at the line of scrimmage, in and out of his breaks, and at times even after the catch. In short, Bell is much more of a skilled receiver than he is an athletic one. Embracing that fact and using his savviness to his advantage will be key to his immediate success at the next level. Below you will find one of the many plays showcasing this skill set. At the top of his route, Bell uses a hesitation/stutter-step before changing directions, giving him enough separation to convert the first down.
2. Bell displays consistent toughness/physicality in his routes and after the catch
What Bell lacks athletically, he makes up for in toughness and grit on the field. He is not afraid to seek contact in his route running as he frequently used his hands and frame to fight off more physical defensive backs. In addition, Bell also showcased great concentration through contact, which allowed him to make plays despite physical coverage. And with the ball in his hands, Bell is tenacious after contact and will usually push for additional yards. While he is not always successful at breaking through tackles, it is the consistent effort to maximize every play that caught my eye. The clip below gives us a glimpse of his effort as Bell powers through multiple hits, maintains his balance, and reaches towards the pylon for the touchdown.
3. Bell is an outstanding blocker
This might be Bell’s most underrated skill as he was consistently successful as a blocker in his time at Purdue. This was especially evident in his early years, as Bell was frequently tasked with blocking for Rondale Moore on screens and jet sweeps. And while Bell has continued to take on a more prominent role in this offense (clearly operating as the WR1 over the past two years), this did not deter him from doing the dirty work as a blocker. He never shied away from contact and, most impressively, would maintain the block all the way until the very end of the play. There were even a few instances in his tape where he would continue to fight for leverage even after the play was dead. This highlights his competitiveness and commitment to winning in every facet of the game. And while blocking will not garner as much attention as a highlight-reel catch, it could pave a path to consistent snaps early on in his NFL career.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Elite Top-End Speed
This is by far Bell’s most glaring weakness. Unlike some of the other receivers in this class, he simply does not possess the elite vertical speed to consistently win in that aspect of the game. And even after the catch, Bell did not showcase the explosiveness to consistently erase angles in the open field, which is partially why he relied so heavily on his physicality and vision to gain yards. This could be a slight concern as he enters the NFL where gaining yardage through contact will be much more difficult. Regardless, Bell is still an extremely skilled route runner with an outstanding catch radius – two aspects of his game that should translate well at the next level. Assuming his future coaching staff uses him in a role that caters to his strengths, Bell should have plenty of opportunities to be productive.
2. Consistent usage as a Slot WR
While Bell did occasionally run routes out of the slot, he was primarily an outside receiver in his time at Purdue. Among all 2022 wide receivers, Bell ranks 3rd in yards per route run lined up out wide, proving that he was fairly successful in that role. However, despite his usage in college, I believe Bell’s game could thrive in the slot at the next level. Taking into account his below-average athleticism, using him in the slot could mask some of those deficiencies and instead create mismatches through his efficient and smart route running. Therefore, it would not surprise me if a team drafted him to partially operate as a big-bodied, possession WR out of the slot, similar to Keenan Allen.
2022 Fantasy Outlook
David Bell is one of the wide receivers I will keep a close eye on throughout the NFL draft. While he is essentially locked in as a Day 2 pick, per the NFL Mock Draft Database, it remains to be seen if he will receive 2nd or 3rd round draft capital. I have seen mock drafts project him coming off the board in the early 2nd, while some believe he will now drop into the 3rd round due to his poor Combine performance. Regardless, I still believe Bell could be a value in dynasty rookie drafts based on the totality of his profile. To provide some perspective, below are all early-declare wide receivers since 2010 who were drafted on day two, broke out before age 19, and finished their college career with at least a 30% weighted receiving dominator rating:
Bell would be the next wide receiver to join this list. While this isn’t the most impressive group, it still shows that Bell’s profile as an early producer puts him in a unique category even if he is drafted on day two. Athletically, he is probably closer to Allen; but from a production standpoint, Bell’s college numbers are more similar to Kirk’s. All that to say, I am still a believer in Bell as a prospect. Understandably, there are some concerns, which is why he is clearly in a tier below the top-5 wide receivers in this class. But with Bell’s ADP hovering around the late 1st/early 2nd round of rookie drafts, he could be a value for your dynasty teams.