Le'Veon Bell Could End Up Being a Fantasy Football Bargain
Sports are supposed to be fun, right? That's what I've been told, at least. Things don't seem to be very fun recently.
Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell facing a four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s drug policy, per @DanGrazianoESPN. It's over missed test.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 22, 2016
Yet another season in which we don't get to see 16 games of Le'Veon Bell. Awesome.
Prior to this, Bell was flying off the board as the top running back in PPR leagues and the fourth overall pick, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Clearly, that puppy finna drop, and it likely won't be a short fall. But at what point should we be scooping up this perpetually-sidelined star? Let's try to figure that out.
A Potential Source of Value
If we want to work things out mathematically, we can hit up numberFire's draft kit, in which all projections and rankings are free. In order to get a happy medium, we'll set the scoring rules at a half point per reception to peep Bell's new outlook.
Prior to the suspension, Bell was numberFire's top running back in these scoring rules, projected to lock down 256.23 points. In the weekly projections on Bell's player page, after converting scoring to half-PPR, we can see that 59.19 of those points were supposed to come in the first four games that Bell is likely to miss. Subtract that from his starting point, and we come to 197.04 points.
In pivoting back to the draft kit, we'll see that this places him as the 13th-ranked running back, right behind Mark Ingram and LeSean McCoy. Yes, that's illustrative of just how grotesque his lead was over the rest of the pack prior to the potential suspension, and that lead would likely only be greater in full-PPR leagues.
Based on the aforementioned Fantasy Football Calculator ADP data, both Ingram and McCoy are currently going in the early- to mid-third round of PPR drafts (as there is no half-PPR option on the site). Again, this should help show you just how stupidly optimistic the outlook for Bell was prior to the suspension news. Even if you were to take a zero for four weeks, the projection would still be that of a third-round pick.
Here's the fun thing about fantasy, though: you don't have to take a zero for those four weeks. You can use someone else in that slot to bridge the gap until Bell returns. Sweetness.
Just based on this, it would seem pretty obvious that you'd still want Bell on your teams for when he returns, even though it is a big-time buzzkill. However, there are some extenuating factors with Bell that we also must consider when weighing where to snag him once draft day rolls around.
Causes for Concern
Let us all not forget that Bell just had surgery on his MCL and PCL back in November. While he now gets an extra four weeks to recover, that's still a pretty glaring risk in the equation.
Back in June, FanDuel's Will Carroll wrote that the nature of Bell's injury made him more of an unknown entering 2016. This was a sentiment that ESPN's Stephania Bell echoed on a podcast discussing Bell's fantasy value. These are people who know a whole heck of a lot more about injuries than I do, and they're not sold on Bell. That's a warning sign.
At the same time, Bell has said that he will be ready for training camp and that he was already cutting and running routes. Considering how recent his surgery was -- and how much time we have until Bell will play again -- that's an encouraging sign. It doesn't nullify the risk, but it certainly does help matters.
Another factor at play is that DeAngelo Williams was really good when he stepped in for Bell last year. Of the 44 running backs who logged at least 100 carries in 2015, Williams was third in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry, the numberFire metric we use to track the efficiency of running backs. Additionally, he was sixth in Success Rate of that same group, meaning he was consistent and had the ability to bust big plays. If Williams performs well those first four games, he clearly won't unseat Bell, but he could play a bigger role during the season in order to keep Bell fresh. That's another slight ding in the Le'Veon dilemma.
Finally, we also must consider the value that Bell's spot on our fantasy benches has during one of the most critical times of the season. There is so much uncertainty the first few weeks that any dead weight is a major hindrance in our search for upside. Holding Bell and waiting for him to play gives us one less spot we can use on this year's David Johnson, and the reduction in potential there is very much non-zero. You're making a sacrifice in losing that slot on your roster, and you can't simply overlook that.
We know the upsides of Bell. And we know the risks. But what does it all mean?
A Fantasy Football Value?
Once the suspension concludes, it seems more likely than not -- even with the legitimate causes for concern -- that Bell will regain his perch as a top-tier fantasy option. After zeroing out his first four weeks, he seems like he's right on the fringe of being a top-12 running back, and you're getting replacement-level production while he's gone. Is he still worthy of a spot on your roster?
If Bell's ADP (somehow) stays as that of a first-round pick, then the answer would likely be no. Adding the missed time with the injury concerns and the dead spot on your roster makes that a hefty price to pay for someone with Bell's baggage. It just seems highly unlikely that Bell will end up going that high.
The most likely scenario is that Bell will slip into the late-second or early-third rounds of drafts, and based on numberFire's projections, that's a super interesting location. He was projected to provide the production of those same backs, and when you add in whatever points you can snag from your replacement the first four weeks, the conglomerate would likely end up outproducing his peers in that range.
This is why Bell is still worthy of an early-round pick in upcoming fantasy drafts. numberFire's Tony DelSignore outlined why Bell is the best back in fantasy earlier this month, and that's the guy you could be getting in the late second or third round. That should probably get you excited.
This type of news obviously sucks because we won't get to watch one of the league's most electric players for at least one fourth of the season. But it also has the potential to create some serious value in upcoming fantasy drafts. Monitor Bell's ADP in the next few weeks, and if he starts to sag into the area discussed above, you could be getting a superstar at a value price.