What to Expect from Le’Veon Bell in 2020 (Fantasy Football)
I remember the days of surviving Le’Veon Bell. Then I also remember the drama of 2018 and the underwhelming fantasy production after a long-anticipated season last year. After participating in several mock drafts, I keep seeing his name staring at me in 4th Round or later. He had a disappointing 2019 season so he is predictably falling down draft boards, yet every time I see Bell’s name, I hesitate.
I don’t think we ever could have imagined such a plummet from grace. The fantasy draft waters around Bell are tepid to downright frozen. He was compared to cold mashed potatoes and to vegetables. Cold mashed potatoes are edible but easily passed over and you know vegetables are good for you but you don’t want to eat them. For many people I spoke to, he skipped right over the food analogy and landed squarely on the “do not draft” list.
If there is one thing I love about mock drafts, it’s identifying sleepers with a lower draft cost and high upside. It’s hard to believe Bell could fall into the sleeper category, but here we are. I decided to dive into Bell’s fantasy outlook for 2020 and see if taking a shot on him in the 4th Round or later could yield a return.
What the Heck Happened in 2019
Let’s look at some obvious factors that played into Bell’s disappointing 2019 season. One, Bell hadn’t played a professional snap in the NFL for an entire year. Two, he was on a new team that was dramatically different from his former Pittsburgh Steelers. We all had questions about whether or not Bell could cut it (no pun intended) a year removed from football and behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. His inability to reach the end zone and abysmal 3.2 yards per carry answered those questions loud and clear. Bell just didn’t look like himself and you could see the argument behind being sluggish and rusty.
However, those two things aren’t the only reasons Bell finished as the RB18 in half-PPR scoring formats, a far cry from RB3 and RB2 in 2016 and 2017. It’s necessary to look at the offense as a whole from surrounding weapons, to the offensive line, to coaching.
Bell used to play on a fast-paced, high flying offense that had elite talent at the QB and WR positions. Playing against Roethlisberger, Bell, and Antonio Brown was a nightmare for defenses. The same cannot be said for the Jets. Bell didn’t have a decent quarterback, offensive line, or any other offensive weapon to help shoulder the load. While this could be great for fantasy owners who want volume, volume, and more volume, an RB needs to have some kind of protection to gain yards. It doesn’t matter how patient Bell is as a runner, you can’t wait for a hole if one isn’t going to open up.
The offensive line was so bad that G.M. Joe Douglas made improving its objective number one in the offseason. For $40 million, the Jets resigned Alex Lewis, added George Fant, Conner McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and Josh Andrews. This roughly equates to 1,536 pounds of upgrades to the offensive line.
No offense to Robby Anderson or Jamison Crowder, but Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Shuster they are not. Having effective weapons in the passing game opens up more opportunities in the run game. There was basically one player that needed to be shut down on the Jets and that was Le’Veon Bell. This was especially true during QB Sam Darnold‘s long absence due to mono. Bell faced an uphill battle from Week 1 and he continued the struggle all season. His excellent ability as a receiver saved his fantasy production. He only scored three rushing touchdowns last year, which ties his 2015 season when he got hurt and only played six games.
If you don’t already know, host Jason Moore has a rather colorful nickname for head coach Adam Gase that is less than flattering. One reason for this nickname is due to Gase’s unwillingness to properly utilize pass-catching backs, most notably Kenyan Drake, during his time in Miami. In 2019 with the Jets, Gase had no choice but to use Le’Veon Bell considering there weren’t any other viable options at the position.
This offseason, however, Gase wasted little time adding the veteran “ageless one”, Frank Gore, to the roster. It makes sense considering Gase and Gore’s history in Miami, but this does not bode well for Bell on the surface. It leaves fantasy owners wondering if Bell will become the next Drake, despite Gase’s promises to study film and properly utilize Bell next season.
The Potential in 2020
I will wholeheartedly agree that it’s difficult to trust anything that Gase says. He has proven that throughout his coaching career. However, actions speak louder than words. Let’s look at some of these offseason moves. As I previously mentioned, the Jets have overhauled their offensive line. This includes athletic linemen to block in space. This is exactly what Bell will need to increase efficiency.
I may be alone on this hill, but I think signing Gore can help Bell succeed instead of hinder his production. Yes, his volume will decrease, there is no way around that. However, Gore is the line-from-scrimmage back that Gase tried to turn Bell into last year. It was the square peg in a round hole analogy. This will free up Bell to play more of role in the passing game, in space, and with better protection. Plus, with another talented RB with a separate identity to his run, Gore can help keep Bell from getting gassed in the 4th quarter.
Another interesting fact about the Jets is all of the vacated rush attempts and passing targets. Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell are both gone vacating 91 rush attempts between the two. Add Demaryius Thomas and Robby Anderson to the list of missing pieces and the Jets are looking at 183 vacated targets to split among the offense. They also didn’t add a ball-hogging WR. Instead, they signed former Buccaneer Breshad Perriman and drafted Denzel Mims. It’s highly likely Bell sees a share of that passing volume to incorporate in his run game.
I want to be clear that I am not saying you jump on Bell and draft him in the 1st Round. What I am saying is that it would be difficult for Bell to get much worse. Discounting 2015 when he only played six games (and still scored 3 touchdowns to tie last year), Bell had the worst season of his career. He saw the fewest yards (789), rushing TDs (3), 1st downs (36), yards per carry (3.2), and yards per game (52.6). His longest run was only 19 yards and he had only more rush attempt than he did as a rookie with 245. Combine that with the dismal Jets offense (bottom four points for, yards, 1st downs, passing and rushing yards, passing and rushing TDs, and the average length of offensive drives). That whole situation for the 2019 Jets was just bad.
Bell’s ADP is currently 3.07 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Given he was in the low-end RB2 category to finish last season and Gase added his favorite veteran RB, this draft position should continue to plummet.
Of course, we have to remember we are not only dealing with Gase and Gore but also environmental factors that could easily derail the hopes of pass protection and run blocking. The biggest being chemistry. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our day-to-day lives, it hasn’t skipped over professional sports, as we all know. Shortened training camps and fewer reps can lead to a lack of unity which is critical to a functional and effective O-Line and therefore, a successful offense.
Despite all of this, Bell still has the opportunity to climb up the RB2 ladder with potential RB1 upside depending on the matchup. He is an RB2 or Flex option who should be consistent with the potential flashes of greatness. After reviewing his tragic 2019 season, it’s no surprise that Bell has fallen from fantasy grace. Hard. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to stay away and keep Bell on their “do not draft” list. However, if my lineup is full of studs and I am staring at Bell anytime after the 4th or 5th Round, I would personally take a shot on his upside. The cost is far less expensive than it was a year ago.