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The Backfield Report (2014): Week 4, Le’Veon Bell, and the NFL’s Toni Morrison

Le'veon Bell

During the 2013 NFL season, I did Tuesday rundowns of all the NFL backfield situations, and I also put out a special Combine Edition of the Backfield Report in February and a Post-Draft Edition in May. Shortly before Week 1, I started the season strong with a 2014 Kickoff Edition, and now it’s just business as usual—if you can call what you’re about to read “usual.” Also, since these reports are quasi-actionable only in the loosest sense, check out RotoViz’s Buy Low Machine, RB GLSP Projections, and Efficiency App.

By the way, thanks to Ramon Ramirez for doing the Week 3 Backfield Report. I was on bye last week.

Here we go!

Pittsburgh Steelers

Even though his game-to-game rushing average isn’t consistent, running back Le’Veon Bell continues to be a “crusher” because of his predictable rushing volume and usage in the passing game. As I said a couple of weeks ago, “Bell might be the safest bet for 100 scrimmage yards and five receptions per game this side of Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, and Giovani Bernard.”

On 72 rushes and 19 receptions Bell has 570 yards from scrimmage . . . and one touchdown. That projects to 2,280 scrimmage yards, 76 receptions, and four TDs for the season. If Bell stays healthy, I bet that he finishes with about 2,000 scrimmage yards, 70 receptions, and way more than four total TDs. When a RB who weighs above 225 lbs., continues to get touches and yards, the TDs tend to follow.

I doubt that in most redraft leagues people are actually valuing him as a guy who will finish with more than a handful of TDs. His current market value may be high—but Bell is probably still undervalued. In another four weeks, he won’t be. Get him while you can.

Chicago Bears

Let me throw some more numbers at you: 452 scrimmage yards, 24 receptions, and zero TDs in four weeks. That extrapolates to 1,808 yards, 96 receptions, and zero TDs for the entire season.

Here are some numbers from the 2013 season: 1933 yards, 74 receptions, and 12 TDs.

Do you think Matt Forte will score a TD this season?

This is what a buy-low candidate looks like.

Miami Dolphins

What? Am I really supposed to think that just because Lamar Miller scored two TDs against an awful Oakland defense he’s suddenly a reliable weekly fantasy starter? He also lost his second fumble of the season. That’s the kind of thing that will eventually get him benched.

Speaking of which . . .

New England Patriots

Stevan Ridley still hasn’t lost a fumble yet . . . and his play is as uninspiring as ever. This guy needs to start fumbling immediately.

Baltimore Ravens

I think that Matt Rittle is right: Justin Forsett is a Shane Vereen type of player in offensive coordinate Gary Kubiak’s offense—or maybe something akin to an older, lesser version of 2008 Steve Slaton.

And I also think we shouldn’t discount impressive rookie “Lorenzo Talia Shire”: He’s scored TDs in consecutive games and certainly has the size and skill to be a between-the-tackles workhorse. Week 10 is my personal over/under for when Lorenzo Taliaferro becomes a full-on discount version of Alfred Morris.

Washington Whatevers

Here’s what I said in Week 2:

Alfred Morris: Somewhere between 1200 and 1600 yards rushing and 10-14 TDs seems about right.

Oh, and about three receptions.

Right now, Morris is pacing for 1264 yards rushing and 12 TDs. And he got three receptions in Week 4 alone—so I guess that my entire projection was off.

By the way, we’re a quarter of the way through the season, and Darrel Young has more fantasy points than Darren McFadden—and McFadden has played in every game. That’s not actionable information. That’s just sad.

Oakland Raiders

Didn’t you hear what I just said?

(Hat trick).

Buffalo Bills

The good news: C.J. Spiller has gotten at least 10 carries every game this season.
The bad news: He’s on your team.
The good news: At least he’s not Adrian Peterson.
The bad news: If he were Peterson, at least you’d know for sure not to start him.
The good news: I’m done with this schtick.

Minnesota Vikings

Matt Asiata, with his three TDs and 100 yards from scrimmage, did exactly what he was supposed to do in Week 4—and Jerick McKinnon still drastically outplayed him. McKinnon is just that talented, and Asiata is just that average. But you already knew that.

Kansas City Chiefs

In his Week 4 return from injury, Jamaal Charles barely outplayed Asiata—so I’m not too impressed.

Indianapolis Colts

Through four weeks, Ahmad Bradshaw has four TDs . . . receiving. That’s the same number that Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief, and Coby Fleener have combined. The bulk of Bradshaw’s value is tied to his production as a receiver, and he’s not going to finish the season with 16 TDs receiving. Unless he can become more of a contributor in the running game, Bradshaw will soon be legally required to change his middle name to “Regression”—which reminds me . . .

Trent Richardson just rushed for 47 yards rushing on 20 carries. With that kind of efficiency, who needs a market share beast named Zurlon Tipton?

But in all fairness to T-Rich, he’s really turning back the clock. If I didn’t know any better I’d say that recently he’s looked a lot like a lesser 2013 Donald Brown . . .

San Diego Chargers

And that’s (sort of) saying something, since I can’t even say that about the real Donald Brown right now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By the way, Doug Martin’s Week 4 T-Rich impersonation was uncanny.


Carolina Panthers

The three-headed Fluffy is currently sleeping, which means that we will have a chance to see in Week 5 whether the intriguing rookie Darrin Reaves can be a productive runner. He’s not an exceptional athlete, but he could be the next Pierre Thomas. With an average of 35 receptions in his last two college seasons, Reaves is an excellent receiver as well as overall producer, given that he accumulated over 100 scrimmage yards and averaged 1.17 TDs per game over his final two seasons. Perhaps most impressively Reaves accomplished this as a true sophomore and junior at the young ages of 19 and 20. A 21-year-old rookie, Reaves was a very solid college football player, as evidenced by his career-high Workhorse Score (WS) of 79.77 as a sophomore. That’s not an elite score by any means, but in the absence of competition that’s high enough to make Reaves an intriguing fantasy option.

The Douche told you last week and this week: You should consider getting Reaves on your team.

New Orleans Saints

Here’s what I wrote in the seasonal kickoff Backfield Report:

By the way, in his first season of college football Khiry Robinson had a 88.97 WS. In his final season of college football, when he caught 38 passes for 430 yards and four touchdowns receiving, he had a 87.20 WS. He weighs 220 lbs.

If the Saints ever decide that they want to feature one running back as a workhorse, they probably have a guy on the roster who can do the job . . .

Robinson wasn’t highly productive in Week 4, but he was efficient, turning 10 touches into 105 yards from scrimmage. Mark Ingram looked great before his injury—but Robinson might actually be the better RB.

Tennessee Titans

Two things that Ken Whisenhunt and Rex Ryan have in common:

1) Both have given the ball way too much to Shonn Greene.
2) Both are overly obsessed with footwork . . .

I went there.

ReXXX Ryan—know what I mean?

New York Jets

If Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory are on your teams, you probably don’t hate them. If they’re not on your teams, you probably don’t miss them.

They’re kind of like those two best friends you occasionally hooked up with that one summer. I guess?

Detroit Lions

Even with Joique Bell injured, I have little faith in Reggie Bush for Week 5. Despite his versatility and passing game usage, he hasn’t had a single game yet with 100 scrimmage yards.

He’s like the anti-DeMarco.

Dallas Cowboys

Opening the season with four straight games of at least one TD and over 100 yards rushing? DeMarco Murray has officially entered Emmitt Smith territory.

Does Murray strike you as a Smith-caliber player???

Remember this moment. This is when you knew that you should walk away from the blackjack table then decided to keep playing anyway just because you wanted to see how long you could let it ride before it all came crashing down.

Cash out, take your winnings, and play another game.

Don’t listen to me. I’m a Cowboys fan. I don’t know how to be happy and let it be.

New York Giants

When you have #LarryDonnell on your team, I don’t know why you would hand the ball to a RB at the goal-line. It’s probably safer just to throw to the TE.

Philadelphia Eagles

Week 4, Peyton Hillis: Eight carries for 31 yards.
Week 4, LeSean McCoy: 10 carries for 17 yards.

In case you don’t remember, last season started with Hillis out of football—and he’s basically still retired.

This is not right—which leads me to . . .

Green Bay Packers

This song makes me think of Eddie Lacy—obviously.

It also reminds that Linda Ronstadt used to be smoking hot and was a musical institution for decades. She’s basically the white Aretha Franklin.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Toby Gerhart is the Lacy who plays in Jacksonville. Really. Through four weeks, that’s the only difference I see. And that’s (sadly) not a compliment.

Houston Texans

Um, that’s one way to limit Arian Foster’s carries.

Atlanta Falcons

Right now, Antone Smith leads the Falcons RBs in fantasy points and is the best player in the backfield—and it’s not even close.

In general, I wouldn’t ordinarily be a fan of a 29-year-old, 5’8” and 191-lb. RB with only 16 NFL carries, but Smith’s backfield competition is weak; he ran a 4.33 40-yard-dash in his pre-draft workouts; he’s a decent receiver; he accumulated over 1,000 scrimmage yards as a junior at Florida State; and he led FSU with 16 TDs as a senior on the way to a 70.86 WS, which isn’t elite but is certainly high enough to suggest that, as a small runner, Smith can still be a sizable part of a NFL committee.

This needs to happen.

San Francisco 49ers

After Week 4, Frank Gore is pacing for 975 scrimmage yards and eight TDs with a per-carry average of 4.4 yards, which is also what he averaged in 2007-2013. And keep in mind that in Week 3 against a stout Arizona defense Gore had only six carries.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that Gore in 2014 isn’t too dissimilar from the Gore we’ve known for the last seven years. He might not get more than 20 receptions, but if he stays healthy Gore is a solid bet to get 1000 to 1200 scrimmage yards and 6 to 10 total TDs, which would probably make him a solid RB2 . . . again.

You know how Toni Morrison is older than God but still continues to pump out meaningful novels on a reliable regular basis? The newer ones might not be as strong or acclaimed as her older ones—but they’re still ones that people connect with and no one should ignore.

Gore is basically the NFL’s Toni Morrison. We should probably just count on him to continue producing till he’s dead. Having said that, I’m sure that in a few weeks I’ll be recycling my “writing on the wall” joke from last season. Gore always seems to be on the verge of death.


Interested in what happened last week? Check out the previous Backfield Report.
Interested in wide receivers? Check out my Week 4 Wideout Report (out on Wednesday).


Matthew Freedman is a regular contributor to RotoViz and is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. He serves as RotoViz’s (un)official ombudsman in the series The Dissenting Costanzan, and he also co-hosts the RotoViz Radio Football Podcast and writes The Backfield Report and The Wideout Report. He is the creator of the non-Quarterback Dominator Rating and now the Workhorse Metric and is the chief proponent of the RBx6 draft strategy and the No. 1 fan of John Brown, the Desert Lilliputian. If you hate the #LarryDonnell Twitter phenomenon . . .

. . . you now know who to blame.

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