A few weeks back the news broke. Arguably the top pick in most fantasy drafts was suspended for four games. After Le’Veon Bell’s Cheech and Chong-esque hot-boxing antics last preseason (with him was apply named teammate LeGarrette Blount), Bell was forced to sit out two games (after it was reduced via appeal). Then this offseason Bell apparently skipped multiple drug tests while still under the NFL’s drug screening program. Was he half-baked? Did he suffer from short-term memory loss? We may never know but what we do know is that Bell’s antics have resulted in a four game ban and a significant slide down the fantasy draft board.
So has the Steelers star’s season gone up in smoke? Not exactly. It’s been an interesting debate across fantasy expert’s draft boards. Where does a player missing 25% of a fantasy season go in the draft? On one hand, Bell is arguably the most valuable player in the draft when he’s on the field. On the other, he puts owners in a four week hole to start off the season. ESPN’s Matthew Berry (along with his staff of experts) believes Bell is a 9th to 12th pick consideration. Yahoo and CBS staff’s have Bell in the late 20’s to the mid 30’s. Quite the gap between these staff’s predictions. Where would FanTav’s Commish select Bell? Well that’s a long story. Before we break down exactly where Bell should go get out your old corncob pipe, kick back, and lets review the pros and cons of being a Bell owner this upcoming season.
The Pros of Owning Le’Veon Bell:
1) He’s the most dynamic player in the league. Seriously, no other player in the league has the potential to run for over 1,500 yards and receive another 800 or so through the air. In a league that now mostly utilizes two backs (one for between the tackles and one for receiving) per team, Bell is on a different level when it comes to total yardage from the RB position. Lets not forget in 2014 he had over 80 catches and 800 yards receiving to go with his 1,300 yards on the ground. Oh, and the Steelers have few reliable targets this season with the year long suspension of one of their best WRs and the retirement of their reliable tight end. So they’ll like be ringing the Bell often out of the backfield in the second half of the season.
2) Bell plays on one of the best offenses in the league. Sorry Todd Gurley, but I want a player on a great offense when I’m picking early in the draft. When Bell teams-up with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, it’s a no brainer that they’re the best fantasy offense in the league. When one of these players is missing from action then there still very, very good, but certainly not the best. When Bell returns Week 5, he will immediately make the Steelers the top offense to own once again in fantasy.
3) The four weeks off could provide Bell with the appropriate rest he needs to start the season. We all remember his brutal injury last season and we all know these pro players already hate the grueling 16 game schedule the NFL has them playing, so a four week long rest may create the perfect scenario for Bell to be better rested than most other backs later in the year. In fact, Bell is a great bet for being the best closer down the stretch of the season meaning he should come up big in fantasy postseasons when it matters the most.
4) Did you know that Bell’s backup DeAngelo Williams scored the fourth most points at RB last season? Bell combined with Williams is still a top three RB combination for fantasy owners and arguably the very best RB (combined) in the league. Considering Williams played pretty much up to par with Bell’s output last year handcuffing the troubled back with his experienced backup could workout rather nicely for fantasy owners and you won’t have to draft either back that high.
5) Which gets us to the last reason to draft the running back nicknamed Juice. The value of Bell in the second round or the third round could pay off huge dividends. Seriously, even after missing 4 games Bell could easily finish the season as a mid-level RB#1 (considering the far less talented Darren McFadden was the 11th best last year despite not playing in 4 games or more). Getting arguably the fantasy MVP of the second half of the season with a potential third round pick is a pretty sexy sleeper especially considering you can pair him with a great first round pick at another position or another RB#1 stud.
The Cons of Owning Le’Veon Bell
1) The trust issue should be the most prominent reason not to own Le’Veon Bell. I mean his nickname is Juice! Not to mention LeGarrette Blount seems to have more sense than Bell and that is worrisome for fantasy owners (considering Blount’s antics over the years) . I’m no expert on the drug screening protocol of the NFL, but every former player that has discussed the topic has pretty much debunked Bell’s “new cell phone number” excuse for not attending his random drug tests. And last year he claimed he didn’t know that smoking and driving was a DUI. Bell has proven in the past and yet again that he isn’t the brightest bulb in the box. However, he’s still confident his four games will be removed or at least reduced. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be as confident.
2) The knee might be close to 100% but it’s a significant high risk/reward decision to draft a guy one season after a devastating injury. Missing four games due to a suspension could be viewed as a nice “ease him into the season” scenario or it could be seen as a guy missing live action for pretty much an entire season. So four games for suspension and now at least a few games of the “rust factor” and that’s assuming Bell will ever be as great as he was back in 2014 again.
3) DeAngelo Williams is a tremendous backup and provided fantasy owners major relief last season (assuming they handcuffed him). However, after his performance last season and his assumed feature back role to start this year can we trust Bell to become the every down back once he returns or could there potentially be a Bell leading 60/40 or 70/30 split? As we mentioned before the rust factor could play into this as well, but either way Williams becomes at least a 6th round pick in most fantasy drafts meaning you’re dedicating two of your top six picks to essentially one player/lineup spot. Better have some sleepers at other positions to fill in the gaps.
4) It’s a contract year for Le’Veon Bell and his off the field behavior is already in the spotlight. These are often high risk/high reward propositions for superstar players on a final year of their contract. It can be argued either way as a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s certainly something to consider when drafting him high. If things go south then Bell could be seeing less playing time down the stretch of the season when the team refocuses their efforts on the future. Either way Bell’s off-the-field mishaps have potentially affected his future contract talks and time on the field this season and as a face of the Steelers low-tolerance franchise.
5) The final reason not to own Le’Veon Bell is what I call the Ricky Williams factor. Twice now in roughly one fantasy season he’s expressed his love for the ganja (in one way or another) that was completely reckless. Driving on his way to the team jet smoking a j and now skipping out on mandatory tests. Can we trust him to put down the spliff and have a great season or does the man love the weed so much his season and potentially career will be suffocated in smoke? It’s a hazy question, but hopefully he takes his time away from the team to focus on the season and not the herb. In other words, don’t take advice from Josh Gordon.
The final thoughts: Personally, I don’t think I can justify taking a guy that will miss 25% of the season before the 13th overall pick. There are too many issues in the “cons section” that make me feel as if I might not be getting a “sure thing” pick. However, Bell’s value is extremely enticing in the second round and I don’t think he will fall into the 20’s in many drafts (despite the other experts that have ranked as so). In fact as of today he ranks 16th on my big board, but could fall to the late second round realm of the low 20’s based on several factors (Rawls health, Charles form this preseason, Jordy’s health, etc..). But make no mistake about it. Bell will be taken in the second round of almost all standard leagues (if not earlier). Although the fantasy gurus are often pegging Bell as a third round pick, he will go before guys like Keenan Allen, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Reed, Matt Forte, and most likely CJ Anderson in the majority of drafts. Lastly, I think at least one owner in every league will be of the Matthew Berry 9th to 12th pick mindset, so the best bet is likely to let somebody else take the bait and pick him well before his Yahoo draft ranking or whatever site you use. The good news is there are tons of undervalued RBs this year, so there are a lot of great post-Round 1 options out there besides from our friend, Juice. However, if you do in fact draft Bell then be sure to snag DeAngelo Williams prior to round 7 or else somebody desperate for a RB or with that newfound “zero RB” philosophy might poach your insurance policy. And that would really suck.
But that’s like…just my opinion, man.