Second Round Price, First Round Value
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 sense. If we check Bell’s ADP on My Fantasy League, we’ll see that he’s the first RB without a first round ADP.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Including fellow Vizians Shawn Siegele and Rich Hribar (back)