The soon-to-be highest paid running back in football has also yet to sign his franchise tag, but he is poised and ready to add to his already historic fantasy resumé. Over the last three years Le’Veon Bell has averaged 16.8 fantasy points per game in most standard leagues and 22 in PPR. Bell is a fantasy monster when on the field, but that’s the problem. He started each of the last two seasons with a suspension and finished with season ending injuries. That shouldn’t instill confidence in fantasy owners. Yet, Bell has been hovering somewhere between the #2 and #3 overall ADP since January. Though he is obviously a premier talent at the position, the key to his fantasy success is the offense he plays in.
Once the Steelers and Alejandro Villanueva agree on a contract, the Black and Gold will be returning all five starting offensive linemen from 2016, Martavis Bryant seems poised to reenter the starting lineup and will back-up opposing safeties, and Big Ben and Antonio Brown are already enough for defenses to worry about. So when you draft Bell in round one this fall, you’re also drafting him for his offense.
The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the DeAngelo Wiliams. In the 13 regular season games Williams has started and finished in place of Bell, he has averaged 18 points per game and 22 in PPR. DW’s numbers were less than half as much his final two years in Carolina. Even Fitzgerald Toussaint had 4.12 yards per carry in the 2016 version of this offense.
Outside of the tremendous receiving core, quarterback, and offensive line, the Pittsburgh offense is unique in how it uses its lead backs. Most teams find a drive or two during the game to spell their bell cow and keep him fresh for the fourth quarter. Not Pittsburgh. Whether it’s been Bell or Williams, the starting back over the last two seasons has had 90.8% of the team’s running back carries, and in 2016, it was 93.3%. That’s absurd.
To put it in perspective, David Johnson had 79.2% of the Cardinals’ RB carries last year, and Ezekiel Elliott had 75.6% of Dallas’. These are nowhere near the Steelers’ backs. But why does this even matter?
First, it is no coincidence that Bell finished his season with an injury, and Williams missed seven games in 2016. This is why most teams employ change-of-pace backs during the season. Second, if you draft Le’Veon Bell, you have to draft James Conner. The PITT product has already drawn praise and positive reports from OTAs, and when the pads come on, Conner will have an even better opportunity to prove his worth. Even if the third round rookie doesn’t pan out, whoever the handcuff to Bell ends up being must be owned in 100% of leagues. The opportunity this coaching staff gives its workhorses is unparalleled, unprecedented, and cannot be overlooked for 2017.