When it comes to analyzing sleepers prior to fantasy football draft day, a lot depends on opportunity, and one such player who may seize the opportunity in front of him and break out in 2014 is Lions running back Joique Bell.
Bell is not slated to be the feature back in Detroit, as that honor will likely go to Reggie Bush, but Bell will get his touches in 2014. After a year in which Bell ran for 650 yards and eight touchdowns on 166 carries while also recording 53 receptions for an additional 547 receiving yards, the Lions will not let that talent rot on the sidelines. Bell and Bush have shown they can coexist.
However, with Bush inching closer to age 30—he turned 29 in March—Bell is the more dependable back to own and will likely prove to be the better value of the two. While Bell, 28, is only a year younger than Bush, Bell does not have the mileage Bush has racked up.
Bush has compiled 1,190 carries and 426 receptions in his eight-year career, whereas Bell has just 248 carries and 105 receptions in his four years in the league, so Bell should be the fresher back. Plus, Bell has not missed a game in his two years in Detroit. Bush has missed 23 games in his career due to various ailments.
Bell has some issues to overcome as well, though.
Bell, who is recovering from a knee injury, hasn't participated in any of the Lions OTAs, per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com, but all indications are he should be fine for the start of training camp.
"Yeah, I do," Bell said confidently when asked if he'd be ready for camp.
Bell wouldn't say whether he had surgery on the knee, but did acknowledge the ailment is linked to the tendinitis that bothered him throughout last season.
"My timetable is this, man: I'm working as hard as I can to get back as soon as I can," he said. "As soon as I feel I'm at a position where I can go out there and not hurt myself, that's when I'll be back out there."
Bell could thrive once again in the Lions' high-octane offense regardless of whether Bush is cutting into his carries. In a loaded offense that features Matt Stafford at quarterback, Calvin Johnson and free-agent signee Golden Tate at wide receiver, and new draft pick Eric Ebron at tight end, opposing teams will likely pay more attention to shutting down the pass, allowing Bell to remain under the radar in the run game.
It was revealed in the offseason that new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is going to evenly distribute carries between Bell and Bush, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Joe Lombardi on using Reggie Bush and Joique Bell: "I see these guys kind of having a split role and both being very productive."— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) April 15, 2014
In this alignment, each back has a chance for fantasy success and both can stay fresh. But considering Bell has less tread on the tires and a more stable health history, Bell will have better value in the middle rounds of drafts.
Although he doesn't have the starting job locked up, Bell will get his touches. And in this offense, he has the chance to explode, especially if Bush succumbs to an injury.
While Bell doesn't have the starting job, he has more upside than guys who are perhaps on their last leg, such as Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, etc.
Aim for Bell in Round 4 or Round 5 as a low-end No. 2 RB/high-end No. 3 RB/flex play. Then, sit back and enjoy the ride.
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