Le'Veon Bell Is a Buy in Fantasy Football Despite His Limitations

The theme of the New York Jets' offseason has been to assemble a better situation for Sam Darnold.

Although they let Robby Anderson walk, they brought in Breshad Perriman as a low-dollar replacement and took Denzel Mims in the second round. That's on top of snagging Mekhi Becton in the first, a move that they hope solidifies left tackle and can keep the ghosts out of Darnold's periphery.

Darnold's stock has gone up, and that's a good thing. But so, too, has that of Le'Veon Bell, something that seems to have flown a bit more under the radar.

In 12-team BestBall10 drafts from April 15th on, Bell is coming off the board as the 38th overall pick, the RB20. Most of these results came before the NFL draft, so it's possible this number moves, but you're absolutely getting a discount from where Bell has gone previously.

Are the improvements on offense enough to make Bell a value at that discounted cost? Let's take a deeper look at that now and figure out how we should handle Bell heading into 2020.

Additional Improvements Up Front

Bell's 2019 was putrid for several reasons. The main culprits were touchdown output, efficiency, and passing-game usage. We'll start with the efficiency angle, something the Jets have tried to give a kick in the pants with their offseason moves.

Before snagging Becton to lock down left tackle in the draft, the Jets went hard at the interior in free agency. They brought in Connor McGovern as a massive upgrade at center, and Greg Van Roten figures to be a starter at one of the guard slots. That's in addition to signing George Fant to potentially start at right tackle and bringing back Alex Lewis to compete along the interior with Van Roten and Brian Winters.

They're taking the "throw large humans at a wall and see what sticks" approach to the offseason, similar to what we saw out of the Buffalo Bills last year. The approach worked for Buffalo. We don't know yet if that will be true for the Jets, but we do know it can't get a whole lot worse.

Bell's probably not going to be some world-beater of a back, and rushing efficiency was never truly his forte. But that's the least important cog in this wheel, and we just need him to not be outlierishly bad again in 2020. With the moves the Jets have made, we can likely project improvements in that arena.

Quarterback Play Lifts All

As mentioned at the top, the main focus of the offseason has been propping up Darnold. The moves the Jets have made should give us optimism that Darnold improves. If he does, Bell will benefit, as well.

Bell finished 2019 with just four total touchdowns. Four. In 15 games across 323 total carries plus targets.

You can place part of the blame on efficiency as Bell never had a 20-yard run the entire year, but the offense itself plays a key role, as well. The Jets were dead last in schedule-adjusted offensive efficiency, based on numberFire's metrics, and you're not going to get many gimme tuddies when that's the case.

If Darnold's play picks up with better talent around him, the offense will generate more red-zone trips. More red-zone trips means more chances for Bell to stumble into the end zone. Everybody wins.

We do still need to be skeptical of the offense on the whole. They have a lingering weakness at right tackle, Becton will be a rookie with questionable pass-blocking chops, and the receiver room is far from being a plus. We shouldn't expect them to scorch the earth, and even an average unit there would be a major win. But there's nowhere to go but up after last year, and Bell stands to benefit if they exceed expectations.

Passing-Game Usage

It's abundantly reasonable to expect Bell's problems around efficiency and touchdowns to at least improve this year. That's a boost to his stock relative to last year.

His usage in the passing game, though, is a different discussion.

Even with a lack of viable pass-catchers in the offense last year, Bell finished with just 78 targets. That's his fewest in a season in which he played at least seven games since his 2013 rookie campaign. From Week 10 on, Bell never even topped five targets in a game, so it's clear Adam Gase doesn't plan to utilize Bell in the same role he had with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As a result, we cannot expect Bell to regain his status as a no-doubt, locked-in, top-tier fantasy back. You need tons of targets for that to be the case, and it would be unrealistic to project that for Bell.

With that being said, it's not as if Bell was non-existent in the passing game. It just wasn't as juicy as the good ol' days.

In half-PPR leagues, a target for a running back is worth twice as much as a carry. To account for this, we can double a player's target total, add it to their carry total, and get a read on their workload that we'll refer to as "adjusted opportunities."

In 2019, Bell averaged 26.7 adjusted opportunities per game. That ranked sixth among all running backs, trailing only this group, most of whom are top-end picks in BestBall10 drafts.

PlayerAdj. Opp. Per GameBestBall10 ADP
Christian McCaffrey35.71.0
Leonard Fournette31.021.3
Saquon Barkley27.92.1
Ezekiel Elliott27.73.2
Dalvin Cook26.94.4
Le'Veon Bell26.737.1

So you have the top four picks, Leonard Fournette (whose value is being pushed down due to trade talks), and Bell. That's pretty good company to be in.

We can expect something similar this year. The Jets did add Lamical Perine in the fourth-round of the draft, but that's the only backfield competition they've brought in all offseason. This is still Bell's show. As long as he stays healthy, he's likely to remain a bellcow.

How to Proceed

There are still legitimate concerns around Bell, as discussed above. He's not worthy of even sniffing the first round. But you don't have to pay that to snag him.

For re-draft leagues, Bell should be an automatic target every time he's available in the fourth round, and the BestBall10 ADP suggests that will happen at times. He's also viable in the third round, though it might be hard to pull the trigger there if solid receiver options like Amari Cooper, DJ Moore, and Odell Beckham are still available. Once they're gone, it's time to pounce on Bell.

For dynasty, Bell is an ideal target for a team with its sights set on winning in 2020. The current manager is likely fed up after what happened last year, meaning the cost of acquisition shouldn't be overly burdensome. As long as you're contending, he can provide a legitimate boost.

If you're not a true threat in dynasty, Bell's situation is sticky. The Jets can part ways after this year with minimal downsides, and next year's running back draft class projects to be stocked after guys like Travis Etienne, Najee Harris, and Chuba Hubbard all decided to return for school. The odds Bell's next landing spot earns him enough dough to guarantee volume are low, putting a firm lid on his true ceiling beyond 2020.

As long as you understand the pros and cons of Bell and he fits the context of your team, now's the time to dive in. The Jets have made improvements around him, and that should help rectify two of his biggest issues. The downtick in targets will carry over, but even when you account for that, he still has a top-tier workload. We'd be wise to get Bell on appropriate rosters before this resurgence occurs.