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Three Reasons to Make Le’Veon Bell Your Top Running Back

leveonbell

Second Round Price, First Round Value

Via Fantasy Football Calculator:

lbell

That decline in ADP looks worse than it is–it’s only two spots. But in the spirit of price sensitivity, it’s significant. Players with ADPs in the top rounds seldom rise or fall significantly, so any discount is worth noting. He is definitely someone to target heavily if his ADP continues to drop. But he’s a worthy target even if his ADP stays where it is. RotoViz may be earning a reputation as Team Zero RB, but there are definitely situations and formats in which an early round running back makes a lot of senseIf we check Bell’s ADP on My Fantasy League, we’ll see that he’s the first RB without a first round ADP.

lbell2

What’s the significance? If you’re picking in the middle or back end of round one, you’re not getting any of the big five RBs. But when your turn comes up early in round two, you’ll have your choice of Bell, Giovani Bernard, or Montee Ball. The RB Sim App suggests Bell can post top end RB1 numbers.

Bell Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 10 11.1 12.1
Median 13.1 14.8 15.7
High 16.4 18.1 19.8

Situation

First let’s briefly consider Bell and the other second round RBs. I love Bernard, but he averaged eight fewer rushing attempts (and the same number of receptions) than Bell last season. That was when he shared a backfield with BenJarvis Green-Ellis. I expect Bernard to get a heavier workload this year, but he also maybe has a better backfield mate in Jeremy Hill. Hill is a second round pick, much beloved by RotoViz, who could command a bigger than expected workload.

Ball may be a sex machine, but his projections rely mostly on assumptions about the Denver offense and Peyton Manning, both of which seem reasonable candidates for some regression this year.

DeMarco Murray is another great fantasy prospect for this season, but has injury questions, as well as game script questions: If Dallas can’t stop opposing teams from running, their own offensive opportunities will be limited.

I’m not suggesting you avoid any of these guys if you like them. I’m just suggesting that Bell has already provided RB1 production over a full season, is playing in the same offensive system, and will likely dominate his backfield’s touches. That’s a mark in his favor.

Elite Talent

To put Bell’s rookie season in perspective, I ran the following screener at Pro Football Reference: rookie RBs since 2000, over 220 pounds, with more than 60 rushing yards/game and more than 25 receiving yards/game. Here’s the full list.

Player Year Age Draft Ht Wt BMI G GS Yds Y/A TD Y/G Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
Matt Forte 2008 23 2.04 73 221 29.2 16 16 1238 3.92 8 77.4 63 477 7.57 4 29.8
Doug Martin 2012 23 1.31 69 223 32.9 16 16 1454 4.56 11 90.9 49 472 9.63 1 29.5
Le’Veon Bell 2013 21 2.48 74 230 29.5 13 13 860 3.52 8 66.2 45 399 8.87 0 30.7

I suppose you could say that Doug Martin is a negative comp, based on his 2013 season, but I’d say the jury is still out on that question. Just the fact that this type of season has been produced only three times since 2000 makes it noteworthy. Bell missed three games, so his raw numbers are lower, but he compares very favorably, especially to Matt Forte.  Take a closer look, from the Career Graphs App.

lb3

To get a broader set of comps, I tweaked the screener and searched for: rookie RBs since 2000, over 220 pounds, with over 1100 yards from scrimmage. Here’s the table.

Le'Veon Bell Comparable Players

PlayerYearAgeDraftWtGAtt/GY/ATD/GY/GRec/GY/RTD/GY/GYscrm/G
Le'Veon Bell201321482301318.83.50.6266.23.58.90.0030.796.8
Matt Forte200823442211619.83.90.5077.43.97.60.2529.8107.2
Doug Martin201223312231619.94.60.6990.93.19.60.0629.5120.4
Trent Richardson20122132281517.83.60.7363.33.47.20.0724.587.8
LaDainian Tomlinson20012252211621.23.70.6377.33.76.20.0022.9100.2
Average200622.837.7228.415.318.54.20.677.12.57.80.0419.596.4
Jamal Lewis20002152401619.34.40.3885.31.711.00.0018.5103.8
Eddie Lacy201322612311518.94.20.7378.52.37.30.0017.195.7
Ronnie Brown20052422331513.84.40.2760.52.17.30.0715.575.9
Anthony Thomas200124382281419.94.30.5084.51.68.10.0012.797.2
Kevin Jones20042232281516.14.70.3375.51.96.40.071287.5
Willis McGahee200423232281617.84.00.8170.51.47.70.0010.681.1
Mike Anderson2000271892301618.65.00.9492.91.47.40.0010.6103.5

That’s a pretty fantastic set of comps, and on a per game basis Bell compares very favorably. Bell leads the group in receiving yards per game, which I found interesting, given the presence of Forte and LaDanian Tomlinson. Also, his attempts per game and rushing touchdowns per game are slightly above average for the cohort. In short, his career is starting in pretty rarefied company. Could Bell disappoint this season, or even over the rest of his career? Sure. But that would be expecting him to do something (play poorly) that neither he nor the majority of his comparable players did in the past.

Objections

The oft-cited red flag for Bell is his low yards per carry. That argument ignores a couple of key points. First, plenty of great RBs have low yards per carry numbers. More importantly, yards per carry isn’t very stable from year to year, so it’s not a great predictor of anything. To make this point, another Pro Football Reference Screener: Since 2000, all rookie running backs with over 1100 yards from scrimmage and a yards per attempt below 4.0. As a group, they’ve done just fine over their careers.

Player Year Age G Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G YScm
Marshawn Lynch 2007 21 13 280 1115 3.98 7 85.8 1299
Le’Veon Bell 2013 21 13 244 860 3.52 8 66.2 1259
Reggie Bush 2006 21 16 155 565 3.65 6 35.3 1307
Matt Forte 2008 23 16 316 1238 3.92 8 77.4 1715
Willis McGahee 2004 23 16 284 1128 3.97 13 70.5 1297
Knowshon Moreno 2009 22 16 247 947 3.83 7 59.2 1160
Trent Richardson 2012 21 15 267 950 3.56 11 63.3 1317
Zac Stacy 2013 22 14 250 973 3.89 7 69.5 1114
LaDainian Tomlinson 2001 22 16 339 1236 3.65 10 77.3 1603

The other objection is that the Steelers added LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer this offseason. Archer is a 5’8″, 173 pound rookie who in my opinion presents no threat to Bell at all. Since 2000, rookie RBs under 5’10” and 180 pounds have an average stat line of 0.95 attempts/game, 3.1 yards/game, 0.54 receptions/game, and 4.2 receiving yards/game. It seems likely that Blount will take a few carries a game from Bell. But that might just serve to keep Bell fresher and help his efficiency. Also, Blount averages a paltry 0.4 receptions/game for his career. So while Blount may indeed be a good runner, he’s not a good receiver. In other words, if Blount is in the game, it might signal “run” much more than “pass.” On the other hand Bell is a good runner and a very good receiver, which should keep defenses guessing, and him in the game in high leverage situations. 

Money Where My Mouth Is

Last week I had the great privilege and honor to participate in an MFL10 organized by Pat Thorman of Pro Football Focus. The competitors are high quality fantasy pundits, and I encourage you to check out the draft, and follow the competitors on Twitter.1 I took Demaryius Thomas with my first round pick, then landed Bell at pick 2.08, which represents a very small case of “winning the ADP battle.” I’m quite comfortable with him as my top RB.

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Find me on G+

  1. Including fellow Vizians Shawn Siegele and Rich Hribar  (back)

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