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leveonbell

There is a running back, incredibly similar to Doug Martin, with essentially no competition in his own backfield, being drafted in the late 3rd round of redraft leagues. Le’Veon Bell is clearly the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is being massively underestimated by the fantasy community. While the early love was for Montee Ball and there is growing sentiment for Giovani Bernard, Bell is the clear candidate to finish as the #1 rookie runner.

Before the Steelers had even selected Bell with the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Shawn Siegele comped Bell to Doug Martin with this table:

Player College College Yards College YPC College TD College Rec Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Agility Score
Le’Veon Bell Michigan State 3346 5.0 33 78 230 4.6 102.7 10.99
Player College College Yards College YPC College TD College Rec Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Agility Score
Doug Martin Boise State 3431 5.6 43 67 223 4.55 104.1 10.95
DeShaun Foster UCLA 3049 4.4 39 57 222 4.57 101.8 10.98
Delone Carter Syracuse 3104 4.8 24 28 222 4.54 104.5 10.99
Stevan Ridley Louisiana State 1419 4.6 19 17 225 4.65 96.2 10.99
Joique Bell Wayne State (MI) NA NA NA NA 220 4.68 91.7 11.01

Shawn summarized his findings by stating “If you were to make Le’Veon Bell the average of these backs, he’d probably be worth a mid-round pick in the NFL Draft and a late first round dynasty selection. However, his passing game usage suggests Doug Martin and DeShaun Foster as the closest comps. Considering where those guys were taken in their respective drafts, Bell is poised to be a steal in both reality and fantasy.” As per usual, Siegele seems like some sort of fantasy football soothsayer extraordinaire (Shawn backed up his prediction by selecting Bell #1 overall in the Rotoviz Dynasty League rookie draft).

It wasn’t just Shawn that noticed Bell, however. The Fantasy Douche found in his Agility Index that Bell was the 3rd most impressive physical specimen in the 2013 rookie running back class. The 10.99 agility score from someone as big as Bell was as en early indicator that he was something special and the Steelers realized that. As a staff, we ranked Bell at 4th overall among running backs in the 2013 NFL Draft, but that ranking was brought down by my own 11th overall ranking of Bell that was just dead wrong. Based on physical ability and production, my pre-draft rank was wrong, and given his fit with the Steelers, that ranking is now hilariously incorrect. Feel free to mock, friends.

Despite poor offensive line play, the Steelers are an ideal landing spot for Bell because of the competition. Running back production for fantasy purposes is mostly about opportunity, and even if Bell is inefficient on a per touch basis, he is going to get the volume needed to be successful, both as a receiver and a runner. Bell had 67 receptions his final 2 years at Michigan State and according to ace Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette, has been holding his own as a pass blocker in training camp. Therefore, he isn’t going to have to come off the field on third downs, increasing his Doug Martin comps. Issac Redman has proven himself to be nothing but a spell back, and certainly someone that the Steelers coaching staff can’t trust. Dwyer is a worse version of Bell.

Player College Yards College YPC College TD College Rec Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Agility Score
Jon Dwyer 3226 6.2 35 15 229 4.64 98.8 12.23

Many of the measurables are the same, except for Speed and Agility score. That Agility Score is so bad, it’s unclear how Dwyer is even in contention with Bell for first team carries at all. The Steelers literally just drafted a better, more athletic version of him. Clearly, by spending an early 2nd round selection on a team that could have used help elsewhere, the coaching staff realizes Bell’s talent and plans to use it. Given that Bell has a very clear path to starting, it’s easy to see him outperforming his current ADP; therefore it’s worthwhile to see what rookie runners of a similar size have done since the year 2000 to get an idea of production. The following table is rookie running backs weighing less than 238 pounds, more than 225 pounds and taller than 72 inches, but shorter or equal to 74 inches.

Ht & Wt Rushing
Rk Player Year Draft Ht Wt Att Yds Y/A TD
1 Mike Anderson 2000 6-189 6-0 230 297 1487 5.01 15
2 Anthony Thomas 2001 2-38 6-2 228 278 1183 4.26 7
3 Kevin Jones 2004 1-30 6-0 228 241 1133 4.70 5
4 Willis McGahee 2004 1-23 6-0 228 284 1128 3.97 13
5 Ronnie Brown 2005 1-2 6-0 233 207 907 4.38 4
6 Chris Wells 2009 1-31 6-1 235 176 793 4.51 7
7 Shawn Bryson 2000 3-86 6-1 228 161 591 3.67 0
8 Daniel Thomas 2011 2-62 6-0 230 165 581 3.52 0
9 Jason Brookins 2001 6-0 235 151 551 3.65 5
10 Kevan Barlow 2001 3-80 6-1 238 125 512 4.10 4
11 Tim Hightower 2008 5-149 6-0 226 143 399 2.79 10
12 Toby Gerhart 2010 2-51 6-0 234 81 322 3.98 1
13 Brian Leonard 2007 2-52 6-2 226 86 303 3.52 0
14 Montario Hardesty 2011 2-59 6-0 225 88 266 3.02 0
15 Arian Foster 2009 6-0 232 54 257 4.76 3
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/7/2013.

This is the same table, but generated for receiving stats:

Ht & Wt Receiving
Rk Player Draft Ht Wt Rec Yds Y/R TD
1 Tim Hightower 5-149 6-0 226 34 237 6.97 0
2 Ronnie Brown 1-2 6-0 233 32 232 7.25 1
3 Shawn Bryson 3-86 6-1 228 32 271 8.47 2
4 Lamar Gordon 3-84 6-1 228 30 278 9.27 2
5 Brian Leonard 2-52 6-2 226 30 183 6.10 0
6 Kevin Jones 1-30 6-0 228 28 180 6.43 1
7 Mike Anderson 6-189 6-0 230 23 169 7.35 0
8 Kevan Barlow 3-80 6-1 238 22 247 11.23 1
9 Willis McGahee 1-23 6-0 228 22 169 7.68 0
10 Anthony Thomas 2-38 6-2 228 22 178 8.09 0
11 Toby Gerhart 2-51 6-0 234 21 167 7.95 0
12 Troy Fleming 6-191 6-2 230 19 164 8.63 2
13 Rashad Jennings 7-250 6-1 234 16 101 6.31 0
14 Deuce McAllister 1-23 6-1 232 15 166 11.07 1
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/7/2013.

Looking at the tables one thing becomes clear: the players who had competition weren’t fantasy stars. Those who were given a clear shot at the job and given starter’s touches did well, or even exceeded expectations. The Steelers offense clearly isn’t anything close the ZBS-dynasty of the Shanahan-Era Denver Bronco’s that Mike Anderson ran crazy around in, but a 300 total touch, 1,200 yard, 10 touchdown season is completely within Bell’s range. Even if you don’t buy the argument that he is physically comparable to Doug Martin, or if you don’t like his running style, none of that changes the biggest argument in his favor: touches. Running back touches are at a premium, and unlike other guys around his ADP neighborhood (David Wilson, Montee Ball, Chris Ivory, Ryan Mathews) there is no threat to his backfield dominance. The Steelers have had chances to see what Redman and Dwyer do with starters touches, and neither was up to the task. If they were, the Steelers wouldn’t have drafted Bell with such a premium pick.

It’s worth noting that the Steelers decision to let Mike Wallace walk in free agency most likely signifies a shift back to the more run-oriented offense in which Ben Rothlisberger has always succeeded. Antonio Brown is an above average wide receiver, but he isn’t cut in the mold of a true NFL WR1 (for that matter, neither is Mike Wallace; Don’t tell Jeff Ireland that) and Emmanuel Sanders is more of the same playing the Z position. Rookie Markus Wheaton and elder statesmen Plaxico Burress round out the WR corp. None of these players are going to demand the offense revolve around them. After years of lip service, it appears that Steelers may actually be committed to returning to the ground game.

Perhaps most important is that the Steelers will be getting David DeCastro back from a knee surgery that lead to him only playing 138 snaps in 2012. DeCastro is a superstar in the making, a run mauler of the highest degree and adding him back to the Steelers line improves it dramatically. This article from Beyond The Steel Curtain explains the offensive line woes of the last 3 years for the Steelers, as well as shows some optimism for the group in 2013.

Given the Steelers roster, Ronnie Brown‘s 2005 season is towards the bottom of Bell’s range. Provided he proves adequate in pass protection, and doesn’t fumble the ball in Week One, Brown’s 1197 yards and 5 touchdowns are the floor of what Bell will do in this offense. The Steelers have given lip service to returning to the ground game as their emphasis, and while that probably won’t ever happen the way fantasy owners want it too (Todd Haley really, really hates us), the only choice the team has if they want to win is to utilize someone that management spent a very valuable resource on. The convergence of Bell’s talent, the inferior backfield competition, the resources spent to acquire him, the improvement of the offensive line and the departure of Mike Wallace all point towards Bell as a underrated fantasy asset.

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Davis Mattek is a 21 year old English Major at Kansas State University. He can be found most days writing about fantasy sports for www.sportswunderkind.com , FantasyInsiders, RotoAcademy and Rotoviz.

5 comments
Adam Eraky
Adam Eraky

So here's a question: assuming you could only get 1, would you draft Bell or Lamar Miller?

chillermonster
chillermonster

When you say he's going late 3rd are you talking 12 team leagues? I'm trying to figure out my chances of getting him in a 10 team league with the last pick of the 3rd. I feel like top of the 2nd round would be WAY too early to consider Bell, but I really want this guy on my team. Thanks.

@davismattek
@davismattek

@Adam Eraky If we are taking ADP into consideration, it's Bell and it's not close. I've seen him fall to the 4th in even what I consider competitive leagues with more than competent owners. Without ADP or cost as a factor (keeper league, or just a vacuum), I would rather have Miller for 2013.

@davismattek
@davismattek

@chillermonster I think from a value perspective, you're right. The top of the 2nd is way to early. I would say in a 10 team league with the average, casual fantasy owner you can probably wait until the late 3rd, early 4th round.

Adam Eraky
Adam Eraky

Interesting take. So essentially, Miller will have a better overall season but Bell will provide more value?