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I’m Still Taking Le’Veon Bell First Overall (But Understand if You Won’t)

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Le’Veon Bell has been suspended for three games for his marijuana possession and DUI arrest just prior to the start of the 2014 NFL season. With Bell the consensus top overall draft pick in almost any format, missing three games of a 16 game season is no small matter. However, at first glance and running through some idealized exercises, if and when I have the top overall pick, I’m still taking him every time. I’ll be especially excited about the leagues where Bell drops beyond the top pick and I can grab him, since I know the suspension will scare people off and be priced into a new, lower ADP.

PPR League Projections

I’ll use my early season projections to illustrate just how far ahead of the RB1 field Bell is. From those projections, we see he’s slated for 91.42 PPR points over his first five games, which is a little over 18.3 points per game. If we scale that to a 12 game season (allowing for the fact that many fantasy leagues don’t play week 17), that puts Bell at 219.41 fantasy points. Eddie Lacy is second in the projections at 76.72 fantasy points, which scales (over 15 games) to 230.16 fantasy points. Thus, by my projections, Bell is projected to finish 10.75 fantasy points behind Lacy. You might conclude then that Bell should be drafted behind Lacy, or any other player he would finish behind in points.

BUT! We still need to account for the fact that we still get to fill that roster slot. For this, we can use a replacement level player to determine the rest of the contribution over those three missing games.1 Now, projecting value over replacement can and should depend on your league setup and current trends in the NFL. Regardless, all we need is 10.75 points over three games for our replacement player to provide enough value for Bell to still be a solid number one overall pick. We can definitely get that.

Standard League Projections

In standard leagues, things get closer due to the dual rushing/receiving threat that Bell is, meaning some of his reception points will be taken away. If we look at the first five games using standard scoring, Bell is projected for 71.2 points, and coming in second is DeMarco Murray at 61.99 points. Once again scaling to 12 and 15 game seasons, we get that Bell winds up behind Murray by 15.1 fantasy points. That means we need just over five points per week from our replacement level player to break even.

Fantasy Playoffs

Those situations above are a bit idealistic, because they don’t account for the fact that there are fantasy playoffs. I’m going to use some worst-case scenario assumptions to show why I’m still picking Bell, even in this scenario. The setup will be a 12-team standard scoring league, with fantasy playoffs from weeks 14-16, and two RB slots, 3 WR slots, and a flex slot. This leaves 13 weeks of fantasy regular season games to make the playoffs, meaning each player will have played 12 games because of the bye week, except of course Bell who will have played only nine. This means Bell is missing a full one-quarter of the season, a bigger impact than one-fifth of the season as in the previous examples. Scaling his projected points to nine games, and Murray’s to 12 games, Bell finishes 20.6 points back of DeMarco for the year. Thus we need 6.9 points per week from our replacement level player to break even (as you can see in the standard scoring table at the bottom of the page, looking in the column labeled 12 meaning 12 regular season games for Murray).

For our replacement player, we’ll assume:

  • RB2 becomes RB1 (to replace Bell)
  • RB 3 becomes RB2

This means we have to fill our flex spot with either RB4, WR4, or TE2. Last year in standard scoring leagues, the two mid-round RB4 players were Benjamin Cunningham and Bishop Sankey. Between them, they averaged 4.9 points per week, leaving us two full points short of our goal. However, when we look at the two mid-round WR4’s last year, we find that they were Martavis Bryant and Alan Hurns, who between them averaged (drumroll please…) an almost break-even 6.5 fantasy points per game. If we think we can mix and match players and match-ups to gain 0.4 points per week more out of our lineups, then we suddenly break-even.

Then assuming we make the playoffs, Bell suddenly gains us 1.84 points per week over our competition throughout the fantasy playoffs, based on our projections.

Arguments Against

Hey, all the above is just one person’s opinion. But that last example was set up to show that even in a near-worst-case scenario, selecting Bell first overall isn’t horrible. But there are a few reasons to hesitate, all of which are valid arguments:

  • Q: What if those projections are too bullish on Bell compared to the field? A: I’d suggest running an assortment of projections and either take your favorite ones or average them. Then run them through your league setup to see how much value you lose, and whether you feel you can make it up with a replacement level player. A good starting point would be with the projection machine.
  • Q: But the first three weeks are hardest to mix and match because we don’t have enough information yet? A: Very fair question, and if you don’t think you can make up enough replacement points, steer toward drafting someone else first overall.
  • Q: But what if you completely whiff on your late-round selections, isn’t that much riskier than a sure thing like Lacy or Charles? A: You could certainly whiff on your middle to late round selections. But you could also hit it big time. I personally think about how this works out over large sample-sizes, so on average you’ll get approximately replacement value. But if the risk is too great for you (which could be for a myriad of reasons), by all means pass on Bell and take a safer option.
  • Q: I’m in a best-ball league, how does this affect things? A: This is much trickier, and I think a more focused work-up is required for this (I’m such a tease)…

PPR Points Projected for Number of Regular Season Fantasy Games

PlayerPPR PPG1615141312
Le'Veon Bell18.3237.7219.4201.1182.8164.6
Eddie Lacy15.3245.5230.2214.8199.5184.1
PPG Needed to Replace2.

Standard Points Projected for Number of Regular Season Fantasy Games

PlayerStd PPG1615141312
Le'Veon Bell14.2185.1170.9156.6142.4128.2
DeMarco Murray12.4198.4186.0173.6161.2148.8
PPG Needed to Replace4.

  1. Just like Jonathan Bales did for the first Josh Gordon suspension.  (back)

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