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Player Spotlight: Le'Veon Bell

A detailed look at LeVeon Bell's fantasty prospects for 2016.

Important Note: This article originally appeared on 7-9-16. It has been updated to include the fantasy impact of the possible four game suspension that was reported on 7-22-16.

REX OF THE RUN

The battle between who is the best running back in the game is fierce, but most would agree that in redraft formats, Le’Veon Bell currently wears the crown. After a promising rookie campaign, Bell had his breakout season in 2014. He logged 1,361 rushing yards, 854 yards through the air, and found the endzone 11 times. While an injury cut his 2015 short, Bell was on pace to finish with another 2,000 total yard effort. Entrenched in one of the most high-powered NFL offenses, and in a contract year, the only thing stopping Bell from turning in yet another hyper-productive season may be himself.

When in the game, Bell is a difference maker at the position. The film shows a runner with uncanny hip wiggle and lateral movement. He is among the minority of backs who command the majority of the touches in his offense. In fact, Bell has averaged 22.8 touches per game over the course of his career. His work in the receiving game is another trait that sets him apart. Bell averaged just over four targets per game in 2015 and caught an astounding 92% of them before his injury. Already involved heavily in the passing game, it's possible that Bell could absorb some targets that would have otherwise been allotted for the suspended Martavis Bryant.

BELL THE BUST?

It is difficult to critique a player who may be the best at his position. Still, there are some factors that make Bell a risk for owners. Last year, he served a two-game suspension for a marijuana possession incident that occurred in 2014. In June of 2016, Pittsburgh sports radio personality Mark Madden made waves when he suggested that Bell had refused a drug test and would be suspended again.

Bell denied the report and nothing to corroborate Madden’s “rumor” immediately surfaced. However, on 7-22-16, ESPN's Dan Graziano broke the news that Bell may be suspended four games by the league for missing a drug test.

Bell also has had his share of injury problems since entering the league. In his rookie year, Bell injured his lisfranc and missed the rest of the preseason and a few games of the regular season. Later in 2013, Bell was concussed on a hit during which he collided with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.  In 2014, he hyperextended his knee and missed the playoffs. Last year, he tore his MCL in Week 9 and missed the remainder of the year. While Bell appears to be on track to be cleared for contact by training camp, it is alarming that he’s been dinged up so often in his young career, missing 10 games in a three-year span. It is interesting to note that all our projectors at Footballguys share concerns about his durability-- none of them project Bell to play a full 16 games this season.

Additionally, it is somewhat concerning that Bell continues to lose weight. A recent tweet by Pittsburgh beat writer Mark Kaboly highlights the changes Bell plans to make to his body during this offseason.

Bell lost weight coming into last season as well. Though losing weight will make him a quicker runner, there is concern that doing so will result in increased injury risk. Continuing to drop weight and trade speed for durability may not be the best gambit for a back who has already suffered significant injuries.

POSITIVES

  • The Steelers offensive line has rounded into one of the better units in the AFC.

  • Bell not only demands the majority of touches in the offense, he also gets significant passing down work.

  • He could pick up some of the extra targets that would have gone to the suspended Martavis Bryant.

NEGATIVES

  • Bell has already been suspended once for a drug-related incident and may be suspended for another. 

  • He has an extensive injury history in his limited time in the NFL.

  • Dropping weight once again in the offseason may not be the best idea to maintain durability.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Taking Bell in redraft became a lot less attractive with the possibility of a four game suspension. However, when active, he has the potential to be the top scorer at his position. It's now imperative for those taking Bell to handcuff him with DeAngelo Williams. DeAngelo was a league-winner for his owners last year and his production was not much of a drop-off from that of Bell. Williams will keep your team viable while Bell is suspended and if he should fall to injury yet again upon his return.

In dynasty formats, Bell is still a valued asset, but he has basically lost all insulation. One more knee injury or a prolonged suspension could sink his stock. If you are considering selling Bell because you are tired of the headaches, don't do so for just any package. Make your move when he plays again so that you can cash out for the maximum value. Look for deals that include mixtures of future firsts and young wide receivers who have not yet peaked in value (Amari Cooper, Kevin White, and DeVante Parker are names that come to mind).

DAVID DODDS’ PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

14

260

1196

4.6

10

65

585

9.0

3

321.10

BOB HENRY’S PROJECTIONS

G

RSH

YD

Y/R

TD

REC

YD

Y/R

TD

FPT

14

245

1090

4.4

8

61

490

8.0

1

273.00

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

CBS fantasy analyst Jamey Eisenberg believes Bell is still the top back in redraft leagues:

“I just expect Bell to have the better season in 2016, and his receiving prowess and overall team give him the better chance to succeed. I don't know if this would even be a discussion if Bell didn't get hurt last year, which has left some Fantasy owners nervous about his outlook heading into this year. But if he's fine for training camp, you shouldn't be worried.”

Dr. Eric Petty of FantasyPros writes that Bell’s weight should be a concern for owners:

"I know this is a different approach as compared to studying productivity trends and what offenses have in store for the upcoming season. Injury Science looks at these decisions from a slightly different angle than the traditional fantasy football decision making, but trust me; if you plan to invest in Le’Veon Bell this year, keeping a close eye on his weight should be your first priority. Hopefully, we hear he went vegan or started Yoga and Pilates rather than bulking up in the weight room. Anything that sounds like this and I am in. On the other hand, if he falls back into rookie year Le’Veon and tips the scales in the 240’s, it would be wise to fade him and maybe look at a back like David Johnson."