Our Fantasy Court Series has returned. In this series, two writers will be presenting both sides of the To Draft/Not to Draft question for various players. To kick off the series in 2019, I will be defending the honor of 2018’s most hated fantasy RB, Le’Veon Bell. Be sure to check out The Case Against Le’Veon Bell by Aaron Larson.
Back in 2017, who would have thought that in just two years I would have to convince you to draft Le’Veon Bell? He was coming off of a 1,200 rushing yard, 85 reception, 11 total TD, overall RB2 season and life was good. Well, it was good for fantasy owners, not so much for Bell. He was also coming off of his rookie contract and could not get the long-term, high guarantee deal he wanted from the Steelers. Instead, they franchise tagged him and playing on a 1-year deal is not good for an NFL RB. What followed was the most tumultuous preseason for a single player in recent memory. Bell’s ADP was still top-5 because every week seemed like the week he would show up. Then it turned into that he would show up by Week 8. And then it turned into that he was not going to play at all. Bell fought for his own career and burned many a fantasy owner along the way. In fantasy football, we cannot afford to hold grudges, especially with players of Le’Veon Bell’s talent. We all suffered through 2018, Bell included. But I can tell you that 2019 will be far, far better.
To put it plainly, 2018 was a disaster. As I mentioned, in an effort to secure a long-term deal from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell began a preseason holdout that ended up lasting the entire season. Normally in this section, we are defending a poor performance or extrapolating great performances, but I can’t, because there was no performance. Now, let me tell you why that is a good thing.
In the first five years of Le’Veon’s career, he touched the ball 1,541 times, or 308 times per season. He did this while missing 18 games over that span. For comparison, over that same period of time, DeMarco Murray only missed four games and had 1535 touches, and that includes his insane 450 touches 2014. Bell was literally being run into the ground. Now, at only 27 years old, he is coming off of a full season of rest and should be in peak physical condition for 2019. Back in 2015, when Adrian Peterson was coming off a full season break due to an ACL tear, he rebounded with over 350 touches and finished as the overall RB2. In 2018, Bell wasn’t rehabbing anything, he just got some much-needed rest.
Expectations for 2019
Le’Veon Bell’s situation in 2019 could not be more different than what he had in 2018…or any other year of his career to this point. In New York, he does not have a QB playing a HOF level. He does not have 2 elite WRs. His team is not the favorite to win the division…and all of that is okay. There seem to be 3 main concerns for Le’Veon Bell’s fantasy prospects in New York:
- Adam Gase does not run enough plays.
- The offense and team will not be very good.
- He took an entire year off and will not be ready.
Starting with the 3rd…I’m hardly going to address it. He is a professional athlete, we’ve seen guys return to form after a year off due to injury, and all early reports are that he looks great. It’s a non-issue.
Looking at Gase’s offense in Miami, it is often pointed out that they continually finished at or near the bottom of the league in total plays. There is no disputing that fact but let’s dig a little deeper:
|Gase Total Plays||Gase Run Plays||Pittsburgh Total Plays||Pittsburgh Run Plays|
|2016 - 882||405||1005||409|
|2017 - 962||360||1027||437|
|2018 - 826||371||1034||345|
So while Miami ran 396 fewer plays than Pittsburgh has over the last three years, they only ran 55 (FIFTY-FIVE!) fewer running plays. That is about 1 run play per game lost. Not to mention that Gase’s offense averages about 101 RB targets per season. It’s easily foreseeable that even if there is no change in Gase’s offense, Bell could still see a similar workload to what he had in Pittsburgh. But I think that there will be a change. During his time in Miami, Gase did not have a QB as talented as Sam Darnold. He did not have a WR corps as talented as Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Quincy Enunwa. And he certainly did not have an RB as talented as Le’Veon Bell. While it’s still not the caliber of team that Bell had in Pittsburgh, it will be the first time Gase has all of the right ingredients to make his offense work and that will make all the difference in the world.
I would be a fool if I did not note that there were reports that Gase did not want Le’Veon Bell. I would simply point out that he did not want to spend the amount of money that they spent on Bell. He thought it could be better used elsewhere. Now that he has him, he is going to use, plain and simple.
But, what if the Jets offense is terrible? I actually wrote an article about trusting players on bad offenses last year. The TLDR was this “If there is one position you can trust on bad offenses, it’s RBs, especially pass-catching RBs.” Now that article is a year old but 2018 further proved my point. The worst five offenses in terms of yards per game were: Arizona, Miami, Buffalo, New York Jets, and Washington. Those teams gave us the #9 fantasy RB in David Johnson, the #17 in Adrian Peterson, and the #18 in Gase’s own Kenyan Drake. Obviously, you want more than a low-end RB1 for your first-round pick, but that is Bell’s floor, not his ceiling. He’s already proven his ceiling is the RB1 overall.
I love a fantasy player with a chip on his shoulder. Bell is going to be playing to prove his new coach wrong, the entire Steelers organization wrong, and to re-prove himself to fantasy owners. He even recently apologized on social media to those who drafted him in 2018 and said that he plans to pay you back with a #FootClanTitle (He said championship but we knew what he meant.” Bell is being drafted in the mid-to-late 1st Round as of this writing and I’m convinced that is where he should be drafted. He has a high floor, an even higher ceiling, and is hell-bent on re-establishing himself as one of, if not the best back in the NFL. That is the kind of ambition that I want on my fantasy team and you should too.