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:
|2014 Fantasy Football Running Back ADP|
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.