Why Le'Veon Bell Can Overcome Losing Goal-Line Touches
Le'Veon Bell, a potential second- or third-round draft pick, is one of the most polarizing options in all of fantasy football this season.
Depending on who you ask, where you get your information, or how skeptical you tend to be, you might either love or hate Bell this year.
The team's addition of LeGarrette Blount and the suggestion that he might take a big share of carries from Bell - especially goal-line touches - is also causing headaches for potential owners.
Throwing into the mix the duo's recent off-the-field incident, and passing up Bell in Round 2 and letting him be somebody else's problem seems like a good approach. But just how good a fantasy asset could Bell be?
Two Sides to This Argument
If you're still unclear what to do about Bell in your upcoming drafts, there are some things you need to know. For instance, despite missing the first three games of the season, Bell finished as the 14th-best fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2013. And in standard scoring leagues, Bell posted at least nine fantasy points in 10 of the 13 games in which he played, giving him a solid floor even when he didn't score a touchdown or have a big rushing day.
Bell also added 45 receptions to his stat line, and he had at least 3 receptions in 10 of 13 games, helping him retain his weekly consistency and his RB14 status in PPR leagues.
But if you're skeptical about Bell, it's probably (partly) because of his heavy usage. Bell combined for 289 rushes and receptions, the 11th-highest total of all running backs last year. Remember, he played only 13 games.
He did finish 10th in fantasy points per game both in both standard scoring and PPR leagues, but when the volume is considered, the fantasy production is far less promising.
Of the 38 running backs who totaled at least 150 touches (carries plus receptions), Bell ranked 24th last year in fantasy points per touch (20th in PPR scoring). In terms of total production, Bell was a very useful commodity last season, but it took him an extreme volume to get there. His 22.23 touches per game ranked third among running backs behind only LeSean McCoy (22.88) and Matt Forte (22.69).
He had extreme usage, but it's useful to know how efficient he was compared to similar backs.
Bell's Rushing Ability
So, Bell received elite numbers of touches, and all things considered, he did deliver. Here are some similar top-10 rushers from last year.
Bell relied on more touches than these players to achieve comparable per-game totals, so it would seem that losing volume would cause a drastic shift in his fantasy potential - especially goal-line touches. But that's a rash conclusion to make without considering all the other variables. Namely, Blount's red zone efficiency, which we'll get to soon.
Bell had a very low fantasy points per touch compared to other top-10 fantasy backs, suggesting he was inefficient with his touches. A look at his Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP), our metric for quantifying a player's success adding points for his team, evidences just the same. Here are his Rushing NEP scores and his ranks among rushers with 150 carries or more last year.
|Bell||Rushes||Rush NEP||Rank||Rush NEP/Play||Rank||Success Rate||Rank|
Bell, as a rusher, was below-average this year by all accounts in terms of efficiency. Efficiency, however, doesn't mean everything in fantasy football. Only total production does. So the bigger question is whether Blount's presence and Bell's reduced workload could allow Bell to finish the year with solid numbers.
Will Blount Help or Hurt?
Opportunity is such an integral factor in fantasy football that the mere thought of reduced volume or a committee approach can plummet a player's perception (e.g. Fred Jackson).
But Bell's trouble last year was volume, the crippler of efficiency, so the addition of Blount could help Bell replace some failed attempts with a semblance of efficiency. We've already discussed that possibility on numberFire. Joe Redemann asked whether or not Bell was a true feature back and concluded that Blount could help Bell become more efficient. Additionally, Jordan Hoover examined Blount's very efficient 2013 campaign.
But Blount really doesn't have a track record for efficiency. Here are his Rushing NEP numbers in his career (excluding 2012 when he totaled just 41 carries).
|Blount||Rushes||Rush NEP||Rank||Rush NEP/Play||Rank||Success Rate||Rank|
Again, the ranks reflect Blount's position among rushers with at least 150 carries, which is a good baseline for him. In his first two seasons, Blount recorded 201 and 184 carries, respectively. Last year with New England, Blount toted the rock 153 times. Assuming that Blount is an excellent rusher isn't necessarily supported by his playing history. His efficient 2013 season was the anomaly, which makes sense considering the team he was running for.
Efficient or not, though, Blount is going to take carries, which is cause for concern if Bell does, in fact, need volume to be productive.
Last year, Steelers running backs not named Le'Veon Bell ran the ball 113 times, and that includes games before Bell recovered from injury. Of their 113 rushes, 71 came while Bell was active. When Bell returned, he accounted for 70.5% of the team's carries by running backs, a very high percentage. Bell also dominated receptions out of the backfield in his 13 games. He caught 68.2% of the team's running back receptions in Weeks 4 through 17.
Blount certainly won't be in the market of stealing receptions from Bell. He has 23 career receptions in 4 seasons, and no receiving touchdowns. Blount's one-dimensional game translates only in certain game situations, particularly near the goal line, which is, perhaps, cause for concern for potential Bell owners.
Fantasy football loves to reward touchdowns, but Bell, for as inefficient as he was, was not particularly touchdown-dependent. He scored eight touchdowns, all of which came from inside the 10, so it's understandable to hear that when Blount may or may not be a goal-line threat, Bell's ceiling lowers. However, remember that Bell was very consistent all season - especially in PPR formats.
If you were to remove all of Bell's touchdowns in 2013, he would have failed to reach 10 fantasy points in PPR leagues just once.
Moreover, while it may seem like Blount is the better option at the goal line, he hasn't really proven himself as a lethal option near the goal line. You probably remember his four-touchdown day against the Colts in the playoffs last season when he ran in three goal-line scores in the first half. But he does have more touchdowns from 30-or-more yards away (6) than he does from inside the 4-yard line (5) in his career.
In fact, Bell's short career suggests he's perhaps as viable a goal-line threat as is Blount.
|TD Distance||< 4 Yards||4-9 Yards||10-19 Yards||20-29 Yards||> 30 Yards|
Bell's touchdowns came from inside the 10, and he scored as many times from three yards out as did Blount in his four-year career.
Despite Bell's inefficient rushing and the threat that he'll lose goal-line touches, his receiving ability ensures usable weeks for fantasy owners. And if Blount struggles punching in touchdowns from a few yards out, Bell should be able to finish off the drive just as well. For myriad reasons, Bell's ADP is on the downswing, dropping from 2.04 to 2.10 in the two weeks between August 11th and August 25th, per FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
The Steelers may suspend both Bell and Blount for their recent off-field trouble, but this could help make Bell an even better value. He's going to have more competition than he did last season, but Bell's receiving ability will help ensure his usefulness, and fewer short-yardage attempts could make him, overall, more efficient.