Le’Veon Bell 2020 Fantasy Football Outlook: Bounce Back Bellcow or Big Name Trap? - Roto Street Journal
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Le’Veon Bell 2020 Fantasy Football Outlook: Bounce Back Bellcow or Big Name Trap?

Since entering the league in 2013, Le’Veon Bell has been arguably the most prolific, dynamic, and innovative RB. He redefined the term “workhorse,” when he racked up a massive workload of 1,229 carries and over 300 catches during his 62 game Steelers career.

After his infamous holdout in 2018, Bell brought his talents to New York.  The 2019 season for Gang Green was nothing short of a reality TV show, with a new drama each and every week for Bell to overcome.

  1. A 22-year-old QB stricken with a middle school kissing virus for a third of the season, tanking the entire offense — and effectively the entire season. In the three games Darnold was sidelined, the Jets scored a total of 23 points. There were 15 teams in the NFL who averaged over 23 points PER GAME.
  2. Playing behind Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked offensive line that allowed a league-worst 0.7 rushing yards before contact per attempt. 
  3. Taking guidance from a coach who is one of the bigger morons in the league and openly admitted if he was calling the shots during free agency, he would not have signed Bell. Bell and Gase would clash from OTA’s all the way through Week 17, where Gase and Bell ended the season on this fitting exchange.

After suffering through a quarterback with mono, stacked boxes, and an idiot calling the shots, Bell finished the 2019 season as the PPR RB16, hardly the “bellcow” fantasy owners expected with his hefty late-first price tag. 

With this abysmal season in the rearview mirror, the important question remains:

Is Bell going to bounce back in 2020? Or is he simply in too poor of a situation to flourish as he did in Pittsburgh?

Let’s break down the three major factors that have changed this offseason that’ll determine Bell’s fantasy value:

IMPROVED OFFENSIVE LINE

It was exceedingly tough for Bell to showcase his talents behind the Jets horrid offensive line.  Of the 245 times Bell ran the ball in 2019, his longest run was an astonishing 19 yards. Yes… you read that correctly. One of the game’s most talented backs was given almost 250 carries and could not break a 20-yard run. 

Those who are buying up stock in Bell largely expect that the Jets offensive line will be significantly improved…

Is that really the case? 

The Jets drafted mammoth Louisville tackle, Mekhi Becton, with the 11th overall pick, and he is a human monster truck that moves like a Tesla.  The 6’7 365 lb prospect possesses freakishly athletic raw potential, but it is far from a lock that he will be able to step in and be a reliable starting tackle in year one. He projects as a high-risk, very high-reward year one prospect for the Jets as the probable starter at left tackle.

The Jets added a number of new faces to the line, Greg Van Roten, Connor McGovern, and George Fant. But, their contracts suggest they are viewed largely as short-term fixes. They are the flex seal that GM Joe Douglas is using to patch many holes in the Jets ship. 

It is important to note that the Jets project to return only one 2019 starter, Alex Lewis, on the offensive line, which could pose a significant chemistry concern in the early parts of the season. With an entirely new group in the trenches, COVID-19 limitations to practice facilities will have an exponentially large impact on the chemistry of the patched-up offensive line. Ultimately, Douglas went bargain hunting in the clearance aisle of the offensive line market.

It is my view that the Jets added one legitimate starter in McGovern, and two high-end backups that will be thrust into starting roles in Van Roten and Fant. As lackluster as that may sound, those signings are an upgrade for the Jets in terms of both run blocking and pass protection.  I expect the line to be marginally better, but not enough to significantly help Bell be efficient in his patented patient running style.  Expect the offensive line to be more consistent, but consistently unimpressive and finish in the 20-25th range.

FEWER TOUCHES IN 2020?

Last season, Bell received 245 carries for 789 yards and 3 TDs. His fantasy value was buoyed by his 60 receptions for 461 yards. Bell’s 3.2 yards per carry ranked 2nd to last in the entire NFL, edging out the plodding Peyton Barber.  He was on the field for over 76 percent of offensive snaps, with the remaining snaps being split between Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell.

Bell’s new backfield partners are the ageless wonder, Frank Gore, and 4th round rookie La’Mical Perine — who both pose legitimate threats to Bell’s share of the backfield. Gore came to New York largely to reunite with Adam Gase, and in turn, potentially siphon away goal line touches from Bell. Even though it feels like Gore has been in the NFL longer than fantasy football has existed, Gase’s confidence in him, and hatred in Bell, led Gase to say that Bell and Gore could, “form a formidable 1-2 punch.” Puke.

Expect Perine to mix in as a change of pace back, who also possesses a three-down skill set. 

“It’s hard to anticipate that right now considering everything’s on paper, and we haven’t seen anybody practice,” said Gase when asked about Perine’s role. “But I will say this: We all like his skill set. He’s one of those guys that’s able to do all three phases that you look for a running back to do – be able to run the football, be able to be involved in the passing game, be able to protect. And I think he can do all three of those things.

What do these additions do to Bell’s Projections?

When Gase was at the helm of the 2018 Dolphins, a 35-year-old Gore and Kenyan Drake evenly split a two-pronged backfield.  A fantasy owner’s worst nightmare.  Gore finished the year with 168 total touches, while Drake finished the year with 173.  This resulted in two relatively effective running backs who were used to their strengths, yet drove fantasy owners crazy with their limited upside.

The ageless wonder has run the ball at least 150 times in each season since 2006. That’s 14 straight years of consistent usage.  Even if he is not able to make it 15 straight years of 150 carries, he is a virtual lock for 100 carries in a Gase-led offense.

IMPROVED SURROUNDING TALENT

If the Jets take a step forward from their 31st ranked scoring offense, Bell will be the primary beneficiary.  

The Jets lost field-stretcher Robby Anderson in free agency to the Carolina Panthers, but bargain hunter GM Joe Douglas was able to fill his vertical threat role with Breshad Perriman. Last year, Perriman was buried on the depth chart behind studs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.  Perriman showed flashes of potential in his limited snaps and will have the opportunity to fill a much larger role as a locked-in starter for a barren Jets WR group. His career-high number of targets is 66, and he is likely to eclipse that number in total catches if he stays healthy.

The Jets were lucky to have talented Baylor WR Denzel Mims fall into their lap late in the second round.  Mims possesses all of the physical traits desired by NFL coaches and is penciled in to line up opposite of Perriman in Week 1. These two outside threats will be nicely complemented by the sure-handed slot WR Jamison Crowder, and the return of the talented, yet oft-injured, Chris Herndon.

Being that the Jets gained the fewest total yards and were 31st ranked points scored in 2019, it literally can’t get much worse.  Even a modest improvement in overall offensive production would be a significant boost to Bell’s fantasy stock. 

Similar to the offensive line, I expect their success to be heavily correlated to new additions and the offense to finish ranked in the 20-25 range in terms of yards gained and points scored.

BOTTOM LINE

Even if he’s going to be the recipient of a marginally better offensive line and is likely due for positive TD regression, Bell’s not a great rebound candidate. He faces increased carry competition in Gore, and Bell’s exceedingly patient running style is just not compatible with the Jets below average O-Line.

His household name may be tempting at the 3rd/4th round turn, but take it from a Jets’ fan who loves Bell: having a high stake in the Jets’ backfield is not a desirable place to be at the end of draft night. Fantasy owners would be better suited paying a premium for two top 15 RB’s and targeting the WRs (DJ Moore, Odell Beckham, Calvin Ridley, AJ Brown) going near Bell’s ADP.

Bell checks in at RB20 (0 vs ECR) on The Wolf’s 2020 Fantasy Football Big Board & Rankings.

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