Le'Veon Bell: Fantasy Projections, Analysis for Steelers RB's Return from Injury

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystSeptember 24, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 19: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes the ball during the first half of a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 19, 2013 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 2013 season has been an absolute nightmare for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Injuries on offense have played a big part in the team's 0-3 start.

The Steelers appear set to welcome another injured player back into the fold for this week's matchup in London, but fantasy owners would be well-advised not to welcome running back Le'Veon Bell into their starting lineups.

Not yet, anyway.

On offense at least, the Steelers appear to be bouncing back a bit where injuries are concerned. Tight end Heath Miller made his 2013 debut in Sunday night's loss to the Chicago Bears.

Now, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, Bell is set to take the field for the first time this season as well:

As David Steele of Sporting News reports, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed the news at his Tuesday press conference:

He perked up dramatically at the end of last week. We're excited about watching him be a full participant this week during the course of practice and let that dictate his play. He has been doing a nice job of working from a rehabilitation standpoint. We're optimistic about his availability. We'll let the practice process be our guide in deciding how much work he gets in the football game.

It was originally thought that the Steelers would hold Bell out until after their Week 5 bye, but his rehab from a sprained foot has progressed more rapidly than the team expected.

It's not to hard to see why the Steelers might be in something of a rush to get Bell back on the field.

The Steelers are circling the drain at 0-3, mired in last place in the AFC North. That's due in large part to a rushing attack that ranks 31st in the NFL at 51.7 yards per game.

For a team that has long held a reputation as the king of smashmouth football, that's anathema.

Bell was supposed to be the savior of a Pittsburgh running game that ranked 26th in the NFL a season ago. He was penciled in as the every-down tailback almost immediately after being selected in the second round of April's draft.

Fantasy owners drafted Bell accordingly. Until he injured his foot in the preseason, Bell was the first rookie running back selected in most early fantasy drafts.

Those fantasy owners no doubt would like to finally get some return on their investment. Throw in the injuries and slow starts that dot the fantasy landscape at running back, and many owners are likely ready to plug Bell into their lineups this week.

Slow your roll, folks.

Yes, it might be tempting to roll the dice against a Minnesota Vikings defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs this year, according to ESPN.

However, there are a couple of reasons why fantasy owners with any sort of viable alternative to Bell should explore that alternative.

First, there's the fact that Bell has been on the shelf for over a month. As recently as a week ago, upon his return to practice, Bell told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he was still on the mend.

I don't want to rush it. ... I'm still in the healing process. I've got to make sure I don't reinjure it. I'm making sure I'm confident enough to go out there and make all the proper cuts, that I can completely stop when I need to with a burst and jump. I'm not promising anything or saying I can do anything. I just want to help the offense.

Yes, the Pittsburgh offense badly needs a boost, but the Steelers aren't going to risk Bell's long-term health by giving him 25 carries in his first game back.

That means a limited workload, likely of 15 or fewer touches.

Those touches are also coming behind an offensive line in shambles. Yes, Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones aren't exactly Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy, but even those stars would have a hard time finding success behind the Steelers' woeful front four.

So, what we have here is a running back coming back from an injury who will be playing on a "pitch count" behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines.

Where exactly is the fantasy upside again?

It's understandable that both the Steelers and fantasy owners want to see Bell back on the field. A lack of production from the running back position has been a big problem for both in 2013.

However, unlike the Steelers, the wise play for fantasy owners is to keep Bell on the bench, hope he plays well and be ready to roll him out in Week 6.

Ask not for whom the Bell toils, because you don't want him toiling for thee in Week 4.