The Pittsburgh Steelers received some unfortunate news during the preseason when rookie running back Le'Veon Bell went down with a mid-foot sprain, but his quick recovery and worth to his team's backfield makes Bell a must-have in fantasy football.
Bell was ruled out of Sunday's opener against the Tennessee Titans by head coach Mike Tomlin, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But he insisted that it had to do with him being behind on practice more than being too injured to play.
Bell, who is rehabilitating a foot sprain, will not play because he won't be able to practice. Tomlin made it a point to say the practice time and not necessarily the injury is preventing Bell from playing, which indicates he is close to returning soon.
It may seem like coach-speak to say that a player isn't missing time due to injury, but for a rookie who missed a lot of reps and is still trying to catch on, it seems perfectly reasonable.
And after a report from CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson on Aug. 21 that Bell would miss the first month of the season, his recovery is seemingly speeding up. Dale Lolley of the Washington Observer-Reporter tweeted Monday that Bell is aiming for a Week 2 return.
Le'Veon Bell said he's shooting for return in Week 2 for #Steelers— Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) September 2, 2013
Obviously proceeding with caution would be imperative for fantasy owners who have Bell, but dropping him from your roster would be a bone-headed move at best.
Heading into the preseason, the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette reported that Bell was taking the majority of first-team reps out of the backfield. That was a big early statement. Most NFL teams incorporating rookie running backs like to ease them into the workload.
By selecting Bell with their second-round pick (48th overall) in this year's draft after parting ways with Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers made a statement that Bell would get every opportunity to help turn around their hapless rushing attack that finished 26th in the league last year.
And the faith they put in Bell early on was only solidified by him seemingly winning the starting job in training camp before getting injured.
Bell's bruising rushing attack is reminiscent of a bigger Mendenhall, or dare I say it, Jerome Bettis, and that alone should give Steelers fans and fantasy GMs reason to salivate.
Where will Le'Veon Bell rank among top fantasy RBs after 2013?
The Steelers will start Isaac Redman in Week 1 against the Titans (via ESPN), but his lack of production last season surely has Pittsburgh hesitant to give him a majority of the season's carries. His yards per carry have regressed from 4.8 in 2010 to just 3.7 last year (via NFL.com).
Behind Redman and Bell on the Steelers' official depth chart are LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones, who both look much more like security blankets than players who will take carries away from Bell when he becomes healthy.
Pittsburgh is hurting in the backfield, and Bell's untapped potential seems to be impressing his coaches. It's only a matter of time before he's the feature back in Steel City and is racking up fantasy numbers.