If your fantasy draft took place well before Week 1, there’s a good chance Le’Veon Bell was selected within the top four picks. Now entering Week 2, the Steelers’ workhorse back remains nowhere to be found.
So where does this leave fantasy owners who did draft him?
Don’t panic. There’s good news, even if Bell’s status remains murky — and especially if you handcuffed his backup.
Bell’s backups have historically balled out
The only people not worried about Bell’s status are those lucky enough to have also rostered his backup, James Conner. The Steelers’ 2017 third-round pick parlayed his strong preseason with 192 total yards and two rushing touchdowns during Pittsburgh’s Week 1 tie with the Browns.
Since 2015, the Steelers surprisingly haven’t lost a beat in terms of running back production whenever Bell has been sidelined. Backups DeAngelo Williams, Stevan Ridley and Conner have managed just fine without Bell during their combined cameos as the team’s three-down back over the past three seasons.
- Le’Veon Bell (33 games): 94.4 rushing yards per game, 4.48 yards per carry, 5.6 receptions, 42.6 receiving yards, 0.7 TDs
- Williams, Conner and Ridley (16 games): 83.8 rushing yards per game, 4.26 yards per carry, 3.6 receptions, 30.8 receiving yards, 1.2 TDs
The offense has been a slightly less efficient running the ball without Bell in the lineup, and his receiving ability is tough for any back in the league to match. Still, the Steelers have largely been just fine with their backups replacing their first-team All-Pro.
Bell’s timetable for a return remains unclear, but don’t panic
I suggested exploiting vulnerable Bell fantasy owners in last week’s trade target breakdown. Bell obviously didn’t return before Sunday like earlier reports had suggested, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter has since indicated that we aren’t dealing with a season-long holdout.
The Steelers likely wouldn’t have an endless amount of potential trade suitors even if they wanted to trade Bell, considering his high cap hit and lack of a long-term deal. Regardless, Bell’s return isn’t necessarily imminent, but he’s also unlikely to let $853,000 slip away each week for much longer.
The good news is that the Steelers haven’t shown any hesitation in feeding Bell when he’s ready to play. Overall, Bell has averaged 21.8 touches in five career season-opening games.
We don’t know when Bell will be back, but it seems unlikely the Steelers would resist feeding one of the league’s most talented backs once he’s suited up on Sundays.
Trading away Bell in fantasy means giving up one of the league’s most unique assets at its lowest value to date. He’s certainly not helping your team on the bench in the meantime, but championships are won in December — not September. Don’t be like Jon Gruden and trade a blue-chip player for pennies on the dollar.
Stay patient, and remember that having the league’s No. 1 running back in DraftKings points per game since 2014 on your team will always be better than not.
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In the meantime, target the Steelers passing game
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are an all-time great duo with or without an added emphasis on the running game, but both have seen their counting stats skyrocket during Bell’s absences since 2015. Big Ben has averaged an additional three PPR points per game with Bell sidelined.
- Roethlisberger with Bell (28 games): 21.5 PPR, 36.5 pass attempts, 1.86 TDs, 7.8 yards per attempt, 275.3 passing yards
- Roethlisberger without Bell (13 games): 24.5 PPR, 29.9 pass attempts, 2 TDs, 8.6 yards per attempt, 331.5 passing yards
And Brown has gone off for a whopping 8.8 additional PPR points per game.
- Brown with Bell (32 games): 19.7 PPR, 10.3 targets, 6.8 receptions, 90.7 yards, 0.62 TDs
- Brown without Bell (13 games): 28.5 PPR, 13.7 targets, 9.7 receptions, 135.1 yards, 0.85 TDs
The Steelers have gone 23-10 (69.7%) and averaged 23.9 points per game with Bell compared to 11-4-1 (73.3%) and 28.8 points per game without him. Any team in the history of football is better with a player of Bell’s caliber on the field, but the Steelers have continuously proven capable of getting along just fine without him.
All Bell fantasy owners can do is bide their time until the league’s premier fantasy scorer returns to his day job.