Le’Veon Bell: Boom or Bust Season Ahead?
Le’Veon Bell enters the 2019 season for the New York Jets with a lot of question marks. How will the year off from football impact him? Will Adam Gase continue to misuse his RB1 a la Kenyan Drake during his final season as the Miami Dolphins head coach? Bell’s ADP is the lowest it has been since 2016 when he went off the board at 1.12 in redraft leagues. In the three of the four other seasons since his rookie year of 2013, his ADP was 1.02 or 1.03.
The question we must ask ourselves is that is this “fools gold” or a great opportunity to buy low? Are the lingering questions posed above legitimate and worthy of enough concern to drop Bell down to RB7? Determining which reality plays out in 2019 may be the difference between a winning a fantasy title or having the same sour taste in your mouth that Bell believers had last year after drafting him as the RB3 and 1.03 overall pick.
This article will examine many of the factors impacting the former Pittsburgh Steelers studs upcoming campaign. Without further ado, let us get started.
The Year Off
There is not a lot of data out there for how a running back performs after a year off for non-injury related reasons. In fact, the only such case that exists is Adrian Peterson. Peterson did not sit out the entire season either, actually playing in Week 1. An interesting side note here, while researching this information, Eric Dickerson’s suspensions for conduct detrimental from the Indianapolis Colts to the team came up in the query. Who remembers that? It was in 1990 and 1991 so you are forgiven if you did not remember either.
Back to Peterson and what to expect after a long non-injury related layoff. AP sat out almost all of 2014, which was his age 29 season. All the perennial stud running back did was come back in 2015 was rush for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, and catch 30 balls for an additional 222 yards. Here are the points per game for Adrian Peterson in his bounceback year.
Le’Veon Bell was only 26 when he sat out his 2018 season, making him still just 27 when the 2019 season starts. Based on the small sample size we have, the year off may actually mean Bell is refreshed and ready to take some hits again. Motivation is certainly not an issue. Have a look at this Tweet from Monday.
260 right? 👀 pic.twitter.com/dojvVNsdEk
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) July 22, 2019
The Gase Effect
If you would like more in-depth coverage of Adam Gase and his usage, or lack thereof, of his RB1 since his time with Knowshon Moreno and Matt Forte, you can read that here. We will summarize for the sake of keeping this article on the shorter side of things. Gase traded Jay Ajayi after he was off to a scorching start, wildly underutilized Kenyan Drake, and watched Damien Williams go to the Kansas City Chiefs and look like the second coming of Marcus Allen.
We can see the steady decline of the RB1 under Gase’s watch. The concern is a legitimate one and we will get into that more in the next section.
Although there was a trend back up in 2018, the fact that Kenyan Drake averaged 1.20 points per touch went a long way to push that number as high as it was. To put that number in perspective, Ezekiel Elliott averaged 1.16 points per touch. You could argue that Drake was more efficient and Gase’s distaste for using playmaking backs limited Drake to just 173 touches compared to a whopping 381 for Elliott.
Cause for Concern
The drop in efficiency and ranks for the RB1 may likely be contributed to the lack of talent surrounding the rushers in Miami the past two seasons. Keep in mind, when Gase was with the Denver Broncos he had Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas.
While with the Chicago Bears, Gase had Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. Not quite the star-studded cast that existed in Denver, but still good enough to keep opposing defenses from stacking the box and thus killing the run game. The Miami Dolphins certainly lacked the explosiveness to make the defense fear the pass and one must wonder if the Jets have enough tools to keep the pressure off of Bell in 2019. Fortunately, Bell has the ability to create for himself and often functioned as a receiver while in Pittsburgh. A look at the career stats shows that Bell has been a reception monster. This was with Antonio Brown and others throughout the years commanding the bulk of Ben Roethlisberger’s attention as well.
For his career, Le’Veon Bell has averaged 5.03 catches per game. One has to wonder if he can sustain that pace under Gase and a second-year quarterback in Sam Darnold. Using the quarterback rating by receiver tool at FFS, we can see that Darnold did have some success targeting his running backs.
The running back position combined for a total of 74 targets in 2018. This is a number that is likely to go up with Bell in the Big Apple. Kenyan Drake alone went for 73 targets last year under Gase. One would think the new head man will put the ball in his best weapons hands.
There is a lot to like about Le’Veon Bell in 2019. There is also a lot to make one hesitate on pulling the trigger drafting him. However it does turn out, it will be interesting to see how Bell responds to adversity. Bell had it made during his time with the Steelers. He was surrounded by a wealth of talent at the skill positions. Darnold is probably going to be inclined to play with his new toy. Look for dump-offs and screens to be a staple this season for the Jets. Regardless of the outcome, you will not be getting a zero from a back that was drafted in the top-10. So you will have that going for you if you draft him. Best of luck in 2019!