The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft with the hope he would become their primary threat out of the backfield. Although, while Bell received plenty of work last season, he didn't exactly deliver.
Bell carried 244 times for 860 yards—an average of 3.5 yards—and scored eight touchdowns. Even though the offense began to click over the second half of the season, Bell continued to struggle, maintaining his average of 3.5 yards per carry despite a greater workload.
That led to some changes over the offseason.
The bruising LeGarrette Blount was brought in via free agency, and the shifty Dri Archer was selected in the third round of this year's draft to complete a much deeper and versatile backfield.
All of a sudden, Bell's role in the backfield appears to be growing smaller. This makes him a very risky option for fantasy football owners given his current average draft position (ADP). Here's how Bell's ADP currently stacks up against other running backs:
With those rankings in mind, it's difficult to warrant selecting Bell as early as his ADP indicates. Here's why.
While Bell looked good in a small sample size in the team's preseason opener against the New York Giants—he carried three times for 18 yards—he didn't exactly get the kind of work that would make a fantasy owner entirely comfortable heading into the regular season. Adam Levitan of Rotoworld broke down his reps versus Blount:
Majority of PIT's first-stringers played 14 snaps Saturday. Le'Veon Bell started, got 6 snaps (1 RZ). Blount got 7 snaps (2 RZ).— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 11, 2014
The easy argument here is to say that was Pittsburgh's first preseason game and the number of touches received doesn't matter. That's a fine rebuttal—and a valid one—however, head coach Mike Tomlin's corresponding comments were worrisome, via Ken Laird of TribLive.com:
Mike Tomlin says Le'Veon Bell & LeGarrette Blount "are both going to get their share" of carries this season— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) August 14, 2014
That's where the risk comes in.
Last season, Bell carried 244 times. The next-closest rusher was Jonathan Dwyer with 49 attempts. That allowed Bell to finish 15th in fantasy points among running backs in standard-scoring formats, according to ESPN.com.
Fantasy expert John Paulsen of 4for4.com tweeted his thoughts on the running back this season:
One reason I’m not crazy about Le’Veon Bell this year is his workload last year. 3rd among RBs in touches (22.2). Unlikely to continue.— John Paulsen (@4for4_John) August 15, 2014
If Bell's workload has a strong chance to decrease in the coming season, how could a fantasy owner make him the ninth running back off the board?
While some running backs ranked behind Bell have their own limitations, the level of risk is significantly lower.
Giovani Bernard will be splitting carries in Cincinnati this season; however, running backs coach Kyle Caskey is finding more ways to get the ball in his hands this year—potentially leading to an increase in touches.
Levitan also expects his goal-line work to continue:
Don't assume Gio Bernard will lose goal-line work. Ran for five TDs last year from 7, 3, 3, 35 and 1 yards out: http://t.co/Fl41GemdbP— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 13, 2014
Alfred Morris and Reggie Bush are also ranked behind Bell this season, although both of those running backs were far more efficient on the ground last season. We also can't discount the now-healthy Arian Foster and Doug Martin—each are being drafted after Bell as well.
Morris' value could be on the rise this year due to an increased role in Washington's passing game, via CBS Fantasy Football:
Alfred Morris "catching everything" at camp: http://t.co/ovx5Lbncsj EVERYTHING?— CBS Fantasy Football (@CBSFantasyFB) August 14, 2014
This isn't to say Bell doesn't have fantasy value this year. It can still be speculated he'll receive more touches than Blount, and he'll have a chance to produce more effectively behind an improved offensive line. But he may not be the best option of the available ball-carriers in the second and third rounds of fantasy drafts.
Draft him at your own risk.