By: Kyle Richardson (Twitter: @KRich1532)
Updated: 8/16/2017

The Year of Le’Veon Bell

Here’s the thing, I don’t need to write an article about how good Le’Veon Bell is and you don’t need to read another article about how good Bell is. Anyone that plays fantasy football knows Bell is a top 3 pick in almost all formats. I don’t want to insult your intelligence with mind numbing information you can find in any article or any site you go to. So, why do people keep messaging me asking about Bell? The big question for everyone right now is the hold out that currently extends into week 3 of Steelers camp. What does this mean for Bell and his fantasy owners? Should dynasty owners sell him? I mean, he does have a history of injury and suspension. To me, Bell is like the brand new sports car you just bought. You love to see it on the open road, speeding by cars and experiencing pure power at its finest. However, it’s one wrong turn from ending up in the body shop for weeks and meaning nothing to you during that time.

What about people in redraft leagues that haven’t drafted yet? Can you take that risk? Maybe he decides to hold out into the season looking for a new deal instead of playing on the franchise tag. Before I get into why this is the year of Bell, let’s take a look at past holdouts and how those worked for running backs.

A Look Back

Eric Dickerson (1985 and 1990)
Held out till week 2 (1985)
Played 14 games
1234 yards on 292 carries
4.2 YPA
12 TDs

Held out till week 6 (1990)
Played 11 games
677 yards on 166 carries
4.1 YPA
4 TDs

Emmitt Smith (1993)
Held out till week 3
Played 14 games
1486 yards (led league) on 283 carries
5.3 YPA
9 TDs

Jamal Anderson (1999)
Held out all training camp
Played 2 games (torn ACL week 3)
59 yards on 19 carries
3.1 YPA
0 TDs

Marshall Faulk
Held out first 12 days of training camp
Played 16 games
1381 yards on 253 carries
5.5 YPA (led league)
7 TDs

Corey Dillon (2000)
Held out all of training camp
Played 16 games
1435 yards on 315 carries
4.6 YPA
7 TDs

Larry Johnson (2007)
Held out all of training camp
Played 8 games (foot injury)
559 yards on 158 carries
3.5 YPA
3 TDs

Steven Jackson (2008)
Held out 27 days of training camp
Played 12 games (thigh injury)
1042 yards on 253 carries
4.1 YPA
7 TDs

Chris Johnson (2011)
Held out all training camp
Played 16 games
1047 yards on 262 carries
4.0 YPA
4 TDs

Maurice Jones-Drew
Held out 38 days of training camp
Played 6 games
414 yards on 86 carries
4.8 YPA
1 TD

Do Holdouts Affect Players?

The results are mixed. Some went on to have really good years, some had decent years and others had bad years. It’s hard to really gauge what a player holding out will produce during that season. I don’t believe the answer lies in the holdout itself, but in the year or years prior to the holdout. For the players that experienced a huge decline or even injury, they had a career high in carries leading up to the holdout. The running back position is a brutal, tough position to play. The average career of a NFL running back is only 2.57 years according to statista.com, which is slightly below the overall average for all NFL players at 3.3 years.

Players like Anderson (410 carries in 1998), Larry Johnson (416 carries in 2006), Chris Johnson (674 carries between 2009 and 2010) and Jones-Drew (343 carries in 2011) probably saw statistical declines and injuries because of these workloads in the previous seasons. Part of holding out was knowing that workload would probably catch up soon and they needed to secure a contract before injuries set in. It’s difficult to know just when those injuries will hit. Some players are affected their entire career and always seem to miss games here or there due to some injury nagging. It’s part of playing a game that is so violent. Other players motor through and produce into their 30s with no explanation as to why. But what does this mean for Bell?

Le’Veon Bell’s Career

Bell has only played one full season since entering the league in 2013. He recorded 16 games in 2014 with 1361 yards on 290 carries. Bell has yet to top 300 carries in a season, but he does have some extra wear due to his high usage in the passing game (career high 83 receptions in 2014.) To put that in perspective, David Johnson had 293 carries in 2016 and Ezekiel Elliot had 322 carries in 2016. Johnson however was the only one to come close to Bells reception numbers with 83. When drafting, everyone seems to be worried about Bell, but no one seems to mention this about Johnson or Elliot yet. Can you imagine the usage of these two if they continue to stay healthy and the focal point of their respective offenses? (Elliot is appealing a 6 game suspension as we speak) Even though Bell missed 4 games last year due to a suspension, his usage was high enough the rest of the way that he would have shattered his 2014 marks had he performed that way all year.

Bell can sometimes get a bad rap from the 2015 ACL injury and 2016 suspension, but we can say now it has helped to keep his touches down substantially. If he had not been hurt or suspended, I think we may have some more to be concerned about. I don’t think 2017 is the year those concerns creep in. With the potential of moving to a different team in free agency next offseason and the reasons I will go into next, 2018 may be the year we start to worry about him.

Outlook for Le’Veon Bell in 2017

We don’t know when Bell will finish his holdout and report to camp. I believe it will be before the end of training camp, and it will not affect his season. As we saw above, some running backs were not affected by holdouts at all. Bell plays in one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL and if it weren’t for Antonio Brown, he would be the only focal point or true game changer for the Steelers. I’m not sold on the Steelers giving Bell the type of money he wants. I’m sure they want to keep him, especially with an aging Ben Roethlisberger, but he has said he wants RB1 AND WR2 money since he has made such an impact in both parts of the game. Since he may be gone after 2017, I see the Steelers over using Bell to take the pressure off of Roethlisberger resulting in one of the most prolific fantasy season for a player…ever. Yes, when we look back on 2017, we will say this was the year of Le’Veon Bell. I think he carries the ball over 300 times and he has 100 receptions as well.

In 2011, the Saints Darren Sproles set the single season record for all-purpose yards at 2,696. Sproles had some impact in the return game that Bell will not have, but is this mark out of the questions for Bell? If you take Bell’s career average of 4.5 YPA and multiply it by 300 carries, you get 1,350 yards rushing. Then take Bell’s career average of 8.8 YPR and multiply it by 100, you get 880 yards for a total of 2,230 yards from scrimmage. This still leaves him 446 yards short of the record, but his YPA continue to climb each year he is in the league, finishing at 4.9 last year. It isn’t crazy to say that he will improve on that number again in 2017, possibly climbing to 5.0 YPA or higher. It also isn’t crazy to think that he will improve on this YPR either.

Brown is one of the best receivers in the game and requires attention from multiple people on defense. Martavis Bryant is back after missing all of 2016 and is one of the best receivers in the game when it comes to stretching the field. Add in the newly drafted Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster in the slot to also preoccupy defenses, and you don’t have many more defenders that can keep up with Bell. How many linebackers are athletic or fast enough to take down Bell? I think that record is well within reach and we will see it fall to Bell this year.

Final Verdict

Like I said at the beginning, we all know how good Bell is. You didn’t need me to tell you that. However, you did need me to tell you how 2017 is going to be historically good for him. He will play all 16 games, he will be healthy and he is ready to cash in. Do not let the holdout worry you. Do not let the previous injuries or suspension worry you. Draft with confidence! Bell is the consensus #1 overall player in all formats outside of superflex for me, and even then, I probably wouldn’t be upset taking him #1 overall. T

he Steelers offense will be very dangerous this year and will score a lot of points. Bell will be at the center of it all, ready to win you a championship in 2017 and crush the dreams of all others. Remember when I said his workload would catch up? We are still a year away from that. Let’s worry about making those changes after you win your league this year.