Le'Veon Bell's Return Is Coming at the Right Time for the Steelers
Bell is able to rejoin the team for practice this week as they prepare for a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.
His return comes at a perfect time for a team that just got destroyed on the road by the Philadelphia Eagles. One of the Steelers' fears is being realized, as they lack a true secondary receiving threat behind Antonio Brown with Martavis Bryant suspended for the season.
Eli Rogers is now hurt and is wearing a walking boot, and Markus Wheaton made his return from a shoulder injury against the Eagles only to drop three passes, including a potential touchdown. Second-year receiver Sammie Coates has been up-and-down through three weeks as a boom-or-bust deep threat.
Bell's Immediate Impact
Bell will not only be a dynamic rushing threat to the Steelers' offense but also a secondary receiving threat behind Brown.
It is impossible to ignore Bell's receiving prowess, as he was the most prolific receiving back in the league in 2014 by our Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how many points above expectation a player adds to his team's chances of scoring.
His 2014 Reception NEP mark of 64.26 was the fourth-highest among running backs since 2000.
After missing the first two games last season, also due to a drug-related suspension, Bell returned for Pittsburgh's Week 3 matchup against the Rams. Bell rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and also caught 7 passes for 70 yards. He played 95% of the team's offensive snaps, according to Fantasy Data.
Expect more of the same this week against Kansas City.
Bell had success running against the Chiefs just last season. In the Steelers' Week 7 loss in Arrowhead (with Landry Jones starting), Bell rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries in addition to 4 receptions for 16 yards.
Further, head coach Mike Tomlin, at his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, suggested that Bell wouldn't be eased into the offense.
“We’re going to let practice be our guide in terms of that division of labor, but his level of conditioning is not a concern to us,” said Tomlin of Bell. “His level of conditioning is not a concern to us. A guy that is highly conditioned over a 12 month calendar. We have seen him every day, he has been a part of us, and he has been in the building. He is up to speed on what we are doing from a schematic standpoint and really in tune there.
“We will see how sharp he is physically once we get on the practice field. But rest assured, you are going to see Le’Veon Bell and probably a lot of him on Sunday.”
Fantasy owners should be salivating as Bell will resume his role as the Steelers' "bell-cow" running back.
As good as DeAngelo Williams has been over the first few weeks of the season from a fantasy perspective, he will immediately return to his role as backup in Pittsburgh.
Among running backs with 20 or more rushes so far this season, Williams ranks 14th in Rushing NEP (0.49) among that group. There is clearly room for improvement in the Steelers backfield, which ranks 13th as a unit in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play.
Through three weeks, including a quiet Week 3 performance in Philly, Williams is second in the NFL with 80 touches behind only Lamar Miller's 84. With that type of workload, Bell could certainly be the RB1 in fantasy football moving forward as he was in his last full season in 2014.
Through three games, DeAngelo is the RB2 in PPR formats behind only DeMarco Murray. Is this 2014? Go figure.
Some "Juice" for the Steelers Offense
Although Pittsburgh has had moments of brilliance on offense this season, they are in need of a spark after a pathetic performance against the Eagles.
Through three weeks, Pittsburgh ranks just 12th according to our Adjusted Net Expected Points per play metric (0.09). For a team that was touted as one of the top offenses in the league, the struggles have been real.
Ben Roethlisberger ranks 16th in Passing Net Expected Points (13.59) over the first three games of the season. It is reasonable to wonder if his relatively poor performance thus far has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn't have Bell, Bryant, and Heath Miller.
If the Steelers want to be an elite offense that scores 30-plus points per game, it will take a monster effort from Bell to lift this team out of the current slump that it finds itself in.
If anyone can do it, Bell can.