Fantasy Football Free Agency: Is Le'Veon Bell still a superstar in New York?
Jamey Eisenberg looks at the Fantasy value for Le'Veon Bell now that he has signed with the Jets.
It's over. It's finally over. Le'Veon Bell finally has a new team.
He's a Jet.
ESPN reported the news of Bell signing with the Jets late Tuesday night, and his new contract is for four years with a max value of $61 million that includes $35 million guaranteed, according to reports. It ended a saga that seemed to last forever — for the Steelers and Fantasy players.
The last time we saw Bell in a game was Jan. 14, 2018 when the Steelers lost to the Jaguars 45-42 in the divisional round of the playoffs. Bell was dominant in that outing against a tremendous defense with 16 carries for 67 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown, along with nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets.
That game summed up the greatness of Bell as a rusher and receiver, and he seemed poised to remain a standout Fantasy option for the 2018 campaign. Only he never stepped on the field.
Upset over the lack of a long-term contract and being stuck with the franchise tag for the second year in a row — which would have paid Bell over $14.5 million — he opted to sit out the season. It was shocking, but Bell dug his cleats in the dirt and made a stand.
And now, he's with the Jets.
For Fantasy, we have to decide what to do with Bell now that he's no longer in Pittsburgh. The good news is, playing for coach Adam Gase with Sam Darnold at quarterback in New York still makes him a viable option, although he gets a slight downgrade in value.
I'm not drafting Bell before Round 2 in the majority of leagues. With the Jets, I don't see him being as productive as he was with the Steelers. And if he's drafted in the first round, he's a bust candidate.
But the good news is Gase has done well with running backs as a head coach in Miami. In 2016, Jay Ajayi had 260 carries for 1,272 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns, as well as 27 catches for 151 yards. And in 2017, Kenyan Drake was exceptional to close the season in the final five games after Ajayi was traded to Philadelphia, averaging 118.8 total yards per game over that span, with two touchdowns. Drake averaged 16.8 PPR points in those five games.
Last year, the combination of Drake and Frank Gore had 276 carries for 1,257 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, along with 65 catches for 601 yards and six touchdowns, and Drake actually finished as the No. 14 PPR running back. Gase will make things work for Bell in New York, and the Jets just upgraded their offensive line by acquiring left guard Kelechi Osemele in a trade with Oakland.
In Pittsburgh, Bell was arguably the best running back in the NFL — and an elite Fantasy option. In three of four seasons from 2014-17, he had at least 1,800 total yards, nine total touchdowns and 75 catches (he was limited to six games in 2015 because of a knee injury and a two-game suspension). He played at least 12 games in three seasons over that span, and in those years he averaged 342.3 PPR points.
The Steelers situation was as close to perfection as you could find for an NFL running back, especially for one as talented as Bell. He played with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, behind one of the best offensive lines, and alongside other stars like Antonio Brown.
While Bell dominated in Pittsburgh, so did other running backs when Bell was out, including DeAngelo Williams and James Conner. It was Conner who took over for Bell in 2018, and he had 1,470 total yards, 13 total touchdowns and 55 catches in 13 games. He scored 268 PPR points, which isn't what Bell produced at his peak, but Conner was no slouch. He finished as the No. 6 PPR running back in 2018.
I'm likely going to draft Conner ahead of Bell this season, and we still have to see what Bell, 27, looks like once he steps on the field. Will he be the same player after sitting out a full season? Is he even in shape? And will he succeed playing in this new offense for the Jets?
There's a lot still to digest, but at least the saga is over. Bell finally has a new team with the Jets. Hopefully, he's just as good as he was when he was a star for the Steelers.
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