Is there any denying the talent level of Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Le'Veon Bell? Most definitely not. His rap skills? Possibly...but not his football abilities. While a platinum record may not be in his near future, fantasy football analysts are predicting big things from Bell that could bring other shiny awards to his trophy case.
Prior to the announcement of his suspension, ESPN's Fantasy Football Rankings had Le'Veon sitting comfortably as the No. 2 ranked RB, making him an obvious first rounder. And why not? When healthy, Bell is the most versatile running back in the National Football League, and a supernatural being in PPR format leagues.
In 2014, Bell's lone full, 16-game season, he averaged 18.0 ppg in standard scoring leagues, 23.2 in PPR format. Those are monstrous numbers, as Bell finished as the #1 RB in PPR leagues, and #2 in standard leagues, finishing behind DeMarco Murray.
Jump to the 2015 offseason, where the Pittsburgh Steelers brought in DeAngelo Williams to add some depth in the backfield, and the NFL laid down a suspension on Bell for his marijuana arrest from 2014. In Bell's absence, Williams put up extremely impressive numbers--13.2 points in week 1, 27.2 in week 2--showing that the seasoned vet still has plenty left in the tank.
Upon his week 3 return, Le'Veon Bell showed no sign of any slow down from 2014, as he put up 19.2 points against the St. Louis Rams. Take away the week 8 game against Cincinnati, in which he suffered his most recent knee injury, Bell averaged 16.4 standard and 20.8 PPR points per game in his shortened 2015 display.
Now enters the 2016 season, where expectations are extremely high for a recovering Le'Veon Bell. While news floats around that his knee is fully healed and "stronger than ever," the Steelers coaching staff still must remain careful, as no one wants this franchise running back to go down with a knee injury for a third time in his young career, already.
The Steelers have already mentioned the potential of a more balanced running game attack between Bell and Williams this upcoming season. There has also been talk of plays that will feature both Bell and Williams on the field, as Bell has gone on record to say, "There are definitely going to be packages where me and D-Lo are going to be out there at the same time," per Mike Prisuta of steelers.com. Keeping Le'Veon healthy is a key focus for the 2016 team, which could very well mean less snaps. Sharing the love between Bell and Williams would benefit the well-being of this two-headed monster, as they both have had their fair share of time on injury reports throughout their careers.
Behind Williams sits Fitzgerald Touissant and Darryl Richardson, both of whom the Steelers organization thinks highly of, and have shown impressive flashes in the preseason thus far. Will they earn some regular season snaps? It's very possible, especially if Pittsburgh truly is focused on preserving the health of Bell and Williams.
Combine the murky, gray area that clouds the Pittsburgh backfield’s share of snaps with Le'Veon's recently announced 3-game suspension, and you have yourself even more speculation about drafting Bell in the first round.
Fantasy football advocates know that to win a league, it takes a solid season-long performance. To win it all, you have to win the playoffs... but to get to the playoffs, you must first put together an excellent regular season. Standard leagues typically have a 13-game regular season. Do you really want your first round draft pick to only be available 77% of the regular season, when you need him most? Not to mention, that's best case scenario. Any injuries or recovery setbacks, and you could be stuck with even less availability.
Since the announcement of the suspension, ESPN bumped Le'Veon down to the #12 overall spot in their preseason draft rankings, knocking him out of their first round predictions for standard, 10-man leagues. That hasn't changed fantasy football owners' views on the running back though, as he continues to get drafted in the first round in majority of leagues and mock drafts.
With a RB1, especially as your first round pick, you need reliability and consistency. You want a workhorse, not a running back that could potentially be a part of a committee. Does a player that will only be available, best-case, 77% of the fantasy regular season, and could potentially see less snaps, sound like a reliable and consistent RB1? It may be best for fantasy owners to steer clear of Le'Veon Bell in the first round of their drafts this season.