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Le’Veon Bell will play on the franchise tag in what is probably his final season as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Bell and his agent hope to find someone willing to hand the perennial NFL fantasy star a record-breaking contract in the off-season.
Pittsburgh made a hefty offer to the biggest of the “Killer B’s”, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy Bell. While it's easy to fault the star for not taking what would be a fortune to most folks, he is betting he can command more after this season.
Most of the NFL fantasy brain trust expect coach Mike Tomlin and new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner to run him to death… that is, to make the most of Bell’s skills in a bid to return to the Super Bowl before he leaves.
That would be okay with Bell, who would love to rack up yardage and points in his gamble for a brighter payday, even with the expanded risk of injury.
But what if things don’t work out that way? What if Bell’s numbers regress to a more pedestrian level?
Here are five reasons that could happen:
Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert used a third-round draft pick in 2017 and a fifth-round draft pick this season to add versatile running backs behind Bell.
James Conner showed preseason flashes but had a mostly nondescript rookie year before a knee injury ended his campaign. He showed up lighter and quicker in OTAs, turning heads on the coaching staff.
Conner has shown consistency and reliability in the running game and with his pass blocking. He even caught all seven targets in the third preseason game, which was the only suspect part of his repertoire.
Rookie Jaylen Samuel is more of a pass catcher who wants to run. He needs to learn how to pass block, which will keep him from lining up in the backfield much in the regular season.
Knowing whether Conner can handle a bigger workload before Bell walks away would help make plans for the 2019 draft a little easier.
Ben Roethlisberger is saying all the right things about rookie Mason Rudolph in training camp. His initial reaction to the drafting of a new quarterback is probably more indicative of his feelings on the matter. What better way to tell Colbert he wasted a draft pick than by passing for another 4500 yards or so?
The long-time veteran quashed rumors of retirement and told beat reporters he wants to play a few more years. Roethlisberger watchers say he looks as sharp and conditioned as he has in any of his previous preseason camps.
Rookie James Washington could be this season’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster is still Smith-Schuster, but with experience. He lines up alongside the top wide receiver in the game, Antonio Brown. Rumors from Steelers’ camp is that Vance McDonald might have bought himself a preferred-target status, too, with his big postseason.
That’s a lot of targets. How many times will Ben call run in 2018?
Steelers coaches talk about the desire to save some wear and tear on Bell to keep him fresh for the postseason. What if Bell wants to save himself, too?
With the specter of a grand payday looming, it would be inhuman not to worry about injuries. Will Bell take on tacklers and bounce off bodies the way we’re used to? Or will he cover up and try to limit the number of hits he takes?
A few yards-after-contact here and there adds up. A couple of minor dings or a scary near-miss could make even the strongest man a bit tentative. Minor wounds could take longer to heal sufficiently for a man on such a mission as Bell’s.
Le’Veon Bell didn’t just pass up a big payday from the Steelers. He passed up the chance to be the highest-paid player of all time on a storied and proud franchise. Then he skipped training camp for the third time.
How do you think that sits with Steelers’ management? What if Tomlin is ordered to mix in other running backs and limit Bell’s touches? What if Tomlin is angry about Bell’s arrogance, too?
Players and former players traditionally say they root for their peers to get paid. Just watch the video of the New York Giants locker room after Odell Beckham Jr signed his record contract. Everyone is dancing.
But there are a lot of stars in Pittsburgh. As long as the team stays in front of a relatively weak division, enough peers might be agreeable to a somewhat limited role for Bell.
Say what? Bell accounted for 1946 total yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He was the second-highest scoring running back in all of NFL fantasy football.
However, it took Bell an insane 406 total touches to achieve those numbers. That was over 60 touches more than the top running back, Todd Gurley.
In 2015 and 2016, Bell averaged 4.9 yards per rush. That number fell to 4.0 last year, a 20-percent dropoff. He lost a half yard from his 2017 receiving average, too. That is 2.5 yards less than his 2014 career high.
Throughout his career, Bell ran off a play of over 40 yards every 35 touches or so. At that rate, we should have expected 11-12 such plays in 2017. We got three, all in the passing game.
Don’t get me wrong. A reduced-touch Le’Veon Bell is a very good NFL fantasy running back. Who knows? Maybe a reduced role will add to his efficiency and the yardage impact won’t be proportional.
But I am wondering out loud if he is a top 4 running back, much less the RB-1. Gurley, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott are definitely a better risk. But what about Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, and Kareem Hunt?
Will players with big roles like Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, or Devonta Freeman rack up more NFL fantasy points than Bell?
Is he worth less than his teammate, Antonio Brown? How about Julio Jones or Odell?
It’s a thought. Tell us what you think in the comment section below. Where would you select Le’Veon Bell in your NFL fantasy draft this season?