Fantasy Football

Can Le’Veon Bell Bounce Back in 2020?

Can New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell rebound off a frustrating fantasy season last year? or are his best days behind him? In this article, I recap what went wrong last season and try to forecast Bell’s potential this season.

Quick Reminder: I know this has been a very strange year with Covid-19 and no NFL preseason football, but I wanted to remind our readers that Fanduel DFS NFL picks and strategies will be available throughout the rest of the year. Player salaries are now available for week one at Fanduel. Le’Veon Bell is $6,500 fantasy bucks at Fanduel in week one, which comes in at a bargain compared to other running backs available and actually lead me to research him and create this article. Let’s dive in!

2019 – A Huge Disappointment

After sitting out in 2018 due to a contract dispute with the Steelers, Le’Veon Bell signed a huge four-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets. Hopes were high that between him being well-rested and coming in with a massive contract, he would get back to his former fantasy football league winning-self. Unfortunately, Bell fell well short of those expectations. In the 15 games he played in 2019, Bell ran for 789 yards on the ground and had another 461 yards receiving. While accumulating over 1,200 all-purpose yards (1,250) may not seem like a disappointment, it pales in comparison to what he did in his last full season (2017) where he had 1,946 all-purpose yards (1,361 rushing and 854 receiving). Even more glaring was his four total touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) in 2019 compared to his 11 (nine rushing, two receiving) touchdowns in 2017.

Looking even deeper into his 2019 season, Bell finished 46th out of 47 (amongst qualified players) in rushing yards per attempt with a paltry 3.2 yards per attempt. He also had a career-low 4.0 yards per offensive touch (rushing & receiving combined). According to Football Outsiders, Bell finished 44th out of 45th in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards against replacement) amongst ball carriers with at least 100 rushing attempts. He was also 44th out of 45th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) as well. Bell also was 40th out of 45th in success rate too.

Translating this into fantasy, Bell came into 2019 with high expectations. According to the latest 2019 average draft position data in half point-per-reception (PPR) mock drafts from Fantasy Football Calculator, Bell was being selected in the first round as the eighth running back. He was being selected ahead of the likes of Nick Chubb (finished as RB7 in 2019 half-PPR leagues), Dalvin Cook (RB5), Leonard Fournette (RB9), Aaron Jones (RB2), Derrick Henry (RB3) and Mark Ingram (RB8). Bell would end up as the RB17 in half-PPR leagues and was the RB23 (12.1 points) on a per-game basis. So despite being drafted a low-end RB1, Bell would finish as a mid-tier RB2 but was just inside RB2 status on a per-game basis.

2020 – What’s changed for NYJ?

Coming into the 2020 season, Bell finds himself on a Jets team that has reworked its entire offensive line. They made several moves in free agency, signing Greg Van Roten (guard), Connor McGovern (center), George Fant (tackle), and re-signing Alex Lewis (guard). They also made a big splash in the NFL Draft when they selected Mehki Becton (tackle) in the first round at 11th overall. They made so many changes at the offensive line that they are expected to deploy a completely new starting five from what they had at the beginning of last season (Kelvin Beachum, Kelechi Osemele, Ryan Kalil, Brian Winters, and Brandon Shell). There is optimism with the amount of capital invested in the offensive line that we will see improved production from that group in the 2020 season.

The Jets made some moves to add to the running back room as well, signing veteran Frank Gore to a one-year deal and drafting Lamical Perine in the fourth round of the draft. The 37-year-old Gore will be coming into his mind-boggling 17th season and is coming off a 2019 season where he had 179 total touches (166 rushing attempts, 13 receptions) for 699 total yards and two touchdowns with the Buffalo Bills. While he isn’t expected to be more than a veteran presence who can operate as a change-of-pace option, Gore can be expected to take a few carries from Bell on early downs and towards the goal-line.

Perine is coming into his rookie season coming off two strong seasons with the University of Florida. He would accumulate 1,502 rushing yards (5.65 yards per carry) and 432 receiving yards (10 yards per receptions) with 19 total touchdowns (13 rushing, six receiving). While Perine isn’t expected to come in and command a large number of offensive snaps/touches, he will be another solid change-of-pace option and potentially cut into some of Bell’s third-down snaps as a receiving option.

Breshad PerrimanIn regards to the other skill positions, the Jets lost Robby Anderson in free agency but signed Breshad Perriman (who finished the 2019 season with three straight weeks five receptions and 100 yards receiving) and drafted Denzel Mims in the second round. Mims comes into the league with a 2019 season where he had 66 receptions, 1,020 receiving yards (15.2 yards per reception), and 12 touchdowns. Jamison Crowder will also return to form an underwhelming but high potential three-wide receiver set. In his first season with the Jets, Crowder had eight games with at least eight targets and 50 receiving yards as the primary possession receiver.

Looking at the tight end position, not much changed between last season and 2020 as Chris Herndon is expected to the week one starter after a lost 2019 season. Between an early-season suspension and a couple of injuries, Herndon only played one game last season. After finishing his rookie season in 2018 with 502 receiving yards on 39 receptions, expectations will be high for Herndon now that he’ll be coming into week one this year healthy and ready to go. And the man who stepped in to replace Herndon last season, Ryan Griffin, is back as well.

Reason for optimism?

No matter your thoughts on Bell, there is no doubt that he will surely see volume comparable to the top running backs in the league. He was 11th in carries last season and only five carries separated him and Dalvin Cook, who finished with the eighth-most (250). And before 2019, Bell had at least 75 receptions and 600 receiving yards in three of his previous four seasons (the only one he didn’t achieve those numbers is an injury-shortened 2015 season where he only played six games). So he can be a serious receiving threat from the running back position. According to Pro Football Reference, Bell had the sixth-highest catch percentage (84.6%) of any player in 2019, so he was efficient in the receiving game.

Plus with negative game script perhaps working against the Jets rushing offense after their defense lost arguably their two best players in Jamal Adams (trade) and C.J. Mosley (opt-out), Bell’s ability in the receiving game will come in handy. That will help boost his fantasy floor with a steady flow of receiving work. This is also the same Jets defense that finished 16th in scoring (22.4 points per game allowed) last season before the personnel changes, so there is reason to believe that they could be on the decline and in a spot to give up even more points. While it is concerning in regards to how the rush offense will look if they are playing from behind constantly, Bell is too good (and too highly paid) to not run the ball and also feature him in the passing game.

Another bright spot is that Sam Darnold will have his first offseason without a head coaching change and will be coming into 2020 healthy after missing three games in 2019. Darnold showed well over his final eight games of 2019 with a 13/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and averaging 243 passing yards per game. With the turnover and expected improvements on their offensive line plus some replenished depth among their wide receiver group, there is reason to expect that Darnold can take another step forward in 2020. Any positive progress that Darnold achieves this season will also directly benefit Bell as well too.

According to FantasyFootballCalculator’s 2020 half-PPR ADP (from 8/8/2020 to 8/12/2020), Bell is being selected in the early third round as the RB15. He is being selected ahead of fellow running backs like Chris Carson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, James Conner, Melvin Gordon, and Ingram. So while his price has certainly lowered from last season, he is still being viewed as a high-end RB2. It’s hard to argue with that considering how safe Bell’s floor is (scored at least 11 points in 60% of his 2019 games). While no one should feel comfortable with Bell as their RB1 on their roster, Bell’s guaranteed volume and receiving floor makes him a very capable RB2.

Unlike in seasons past, Bell was a “sexy pick” in fantasy leagues. But between the team, he is on and his lackluster 2019 season, Bell certainly isn’t the fantasy football commodity he once was. With that being said, while I would likely recommend players like Edwards-Helaire and Carson over Bell, he is being drafted right around where he should be. That isn’t to say Bell can’t be a value at his price. He is a three-down running back with a proven track record of being a reliable fantasy producer.

Overall, Bell’s arrow is pointing up coming into 2020 despite coming off a poor 2019 season (by comparison). The Jets re-invested a lot in improving their offensive line and didn’t do much to improve their skill player group, allowing for Bell to be the main focal point once again. While he isn’t screaming value based off of his RB15 ADP, there is a path that allows him to outscore that draft position. Buyer beware will once again be mentioned when drafting Bell but don’t be surprised if you see him improve and come back stronger this season.

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