Prior to the announcement of Pittsburgh Steelers’ star running back, Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, he was the unanimous #1 fantasy RB for the 2016 NFL season. After the news of his 4 game suspension, which has since been reduced to 3 games, his fantasy stock took an uppercut to the jaw. His current ADP is #12 (end of the 1st round / beginning of the 2nd).
However, our draft guide is still aware of his upside. Bell finished as the #2 overall fantasy player in 2014, during which he amassed 1,361 rushing yards on 4.7 YPC, 854 receiving yards on an absurd 83 receptions, and a total of 11 touchdowns.
In the 5 games that Bell completed last season, he averaged 16.3 standard fantasy points per game (Not to mention Landry Jones and Michael Vick started 4 of those 5 games at QB). How does that compare to the best RB and best WR of 2015? Devonta Freeman averaged 15.2 FPPG, and Antonio Brown averaged 15.8 FPPG. Yes, Bell averaged more than both of them in his starts last year.
As if that isn’t impressive enough, Bell’s backup, DeAngelo Williams was on an absolute tear last year, and ended up finishing as the #4 RB. Williams averaged 17.6 in his 10 starts last season. 17.6! Word of wisdom – the Steelers backfield is INSANELY valuable.
Even with all of the potential, drafting Bell comes with it’s risks. First, he has the looming 3-game suspension to start the season. Second, he is coming off of a MCL & PCL knee tear from last season (although he claims he is 100% healthy now, and his knee feels “as strong as it ever has”). And third, he loves his marijuana – with which comes the inherent risk that he could fail (or miss) another drug test.
Personally, I’m more than willing to look past those 3 concerns and take Bell with my 1st round pick. However, he may not be the best pick for you – hence why I have developed this 3-step checklist to see if you are a good candidate to reserve a spot for Bell on your fantasy squad.
Here are the 3 questions to answer prior to deciding if Bell is a good draft pick for you:
1. How many teams are in your league?
The less teams that are in your league, the less of a risk it is to draft Bell. In simple terms, if you are in a smaller league, you will have better players overall. Therefore, the replacement cost for putting in a backup for Bell for Weeks 1-3 will be less significant than in a larger league, where you’ll have worse RBs on your rosters that you’ll have to start for 3 weeks.
If you are in a league with 10 or less teams, Bell is a Top 6 worthy draft pick. If your league has 12 or more teams, Bell is better suited for the back half of the 1st round, or early second round if you are in a huge league.
2. What percentage of teams in your league make the playoffs?
This is crucial. If I’m in a 12-team league where only 4 teams make the playoffs, there is ZERO chance I draft Le’Veon. I cannot afford to go without my 1st round pick for 3 weeks, possibly starting the season 0-3, and hope to climb out of that hole to secure a playoff spot. If half or more than half of the teams in your league make the playoffs, then it is much less risky to draft Bell.
Mathematically speaking, in a league where half of the teams make the playoffs, a .500 win/loss record could get you into the playoffs. I’ve been in a league where 8 out of 12 teams make the playoffs. In that scenario, you can be incredibly risky on draft day, taking guys with suspensions and minor injuries, because it will be rather easy to make the playoffs, and your team will be stacked by the end of the year – when it’s most important.
3. Are you confident in your ability to find good RB value in the later rounds?
Obviously, if you take Bell, you will have to have a replacement for him for Weeks 1-3. This requires the ability to find great RB value picks later in the draft. DeAngelo Williams would be the ideal candidate to pair with Bell, but he has the highest ADP of any backup RB, so if you want him, you’re going to have to spend a high pick on him, and he may be useless for the remaining 13 weeks of the season anyway, if Bell stays healthy (and he will be impossible to trade because everyone knows D-Will’s value only exists in the first 3 weeks of the year).
It’s important to note that if you do draft Bell, don’t overpay at the RB position in order to cover you for 3 weeks. Stick to your normal gameplan, and focus on finding great late round value. A few later round RB picks that offer a safe, albeit unimpressive, floor each week include Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Justin Forsett, Bilal Powell and Danny Woodhead. While none of them are gamebreakers, they will be able to hold you over, without putting up any stinker games, until Bell returns in Week 4.
Good luck this season! If you are in need of some fantasy help, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can tweet us @fanteamadvice, or tweet me personally @addisonwitt.