Fantasy Football Analysis: Le’Veon Bell

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The vast majority of fantasy owners have been acutely aware that Le’Veon Bell appears destined to capture Pittsburgh’s feature back role, even though he currently remains an unproven commodity. Bell was the second rookie running back to be chosen during the last April’s NFL Draft, as Pittsburgh invested a second-round pick on the former Big Ten rushing champion. The selection was made in hopes that Bell could infuse some semblance of energy into a rushing attack that ranked a paltry 26th last season, while averaging just 96 YPG. The 6’2”, 230 pound Bell became an appealing choice, in part because he had generated nearly 3,346 yards on the ground during his three years with Michigan State. That was the seventh highest total in school history, and included nearly 1,800 yards that were amassed last season. Bell also manufactured 12 of his 33 career rushing TDs in his final year as a Spartan. And Bell’s collection of accomplishments in East Lansing, supplied a legitimate reason to believe that his proficiency would deliver an effective tonic to the Steelers’ sluggish ground game.

Pittsburgh averaged an anemic 3.7 YPC in 2012. And for proper perspective on the degree of ineffectiveness contained within that number, only three teams managed less. Which partially explains why Bell appears to have inherited the best possible scenario among all first-year runners, including the four backs that were chosen in the same round. Giovani Bernard must contend with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, while Montee Ball competes with Ronnie Hillman. Eddie Lacy must overcome fellow newcomer Johnathan Franklin, along with several incumbents. And Christine Michelle will primarily perform the role of spectator while Marshawn Lynch hoards an extensive workload. Conversely, Bell’s challenge is not even remotely as daunting, since he only needs to outduel Issac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and former Cardinal LaRod Stephens-Howling, in order to become the Steelers’ primary back. Which presents the most minuscule of mountains to climb, as both Dwyer and Redman failed to seize the RB1 position when they were supplied with the opportunity last season.

Another factor that will benefit Bell, is Pittsburgh’s plan to deploy elements of the outside zone blocking scheme this season. Because that should provide a comfortable fit for his skills. He is a powerful runner, who possesses sufficient agility to evade would be tacklers. Not only should he be effective in accumulating yardage inside the tackles, but the likelihood that he will remain on the field during third down situations is enhanced sizably by his potential to bolster the Steelers’ passing attack. He brings proven prowess as a receiver, as he averaged 33.5 receptions in 2011-2012. Plus, he garnered experience at lining up in the slot, and on the outside while performing collegiately. Bell also appears capable of providing protection for Ben Roethlisberger, in addition to giving his new signal caller an additional target from the backfield. Providing that the Steelers choose to utilize the RB position for that function with more frequency than they have in recent seasons.  

There is still a reasonable level of uncertainty with some owners, concerning how early to target him during the draft process. And after months of consuming hyperbole it was certainly a letdown when he did not perform during Pittsburgh’s preseason opener against the Giants. Although it is very sensible to protect his left knee from becoming problematic over the long term. Plus, it does indicate his perceived value to Pittsburgh’s coaching staff, as they consider it vastly more important to have him available for the team’s regular season opener. And the opportunity to finally witness Bell’s debut will now occur against the Redskins.

While he remains an unproven commodity at the NFL level, we've seen Dwyer's best work, and it was underwhelming. As was also the case for Redman. Stephens-Howling can fortify the attack by supplying an infrequent change of pace, but is not a serious threat to derail Bell from becoming the primary back. Bell’s current average draft position (ADP) is 58, as he is being selected 24th among all RBs. As a result, he is currently the first rookie back to depart most drafts. That is reasonable placement, although it should only improve once more owners are able to observe his talent first hand. If you remain concerned about trusting a back that is untested, you can be confident that Bell will reside atop Pittsburgh's depth chart, given the glaring inadequacies that exist with his competitors. Ultimately, he should capture an extensive workload, and flourish while performing within it. Bell could easily become the Pittsburgh’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010, and should encounter little trouble surpassing Dwyer's team best 623 yards from one year ago. Plus, he has an excellent opportunity to produce eight TDs, which would match Pittsburgh’s season total in 2012. If you are anxious about utilizing him as your RB2, remember that you should be selecting a stable of backs for your roster, and can cushion your risk by drafting him as a flex or high end RB3 late in Round 5. Then you still can reap the benefits of utilizing him as your RB2, if he takes advantage of his opportunity as expected.