Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell has been suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He is appealing the penalty (also includes the loss of an additional game check), which stems from his arrest last August on marijuana possession and DUI charges.
Bell was a first-team All-Pro last season after finishing second to DeMarco Murray in both rushing (1,361) and yards from scrimmage (2,215). Bell was second to none, however, when it came to fantasy production, putting up the most fantasy points of any non-quarterback and finishing 12th overall with 329 points (Athlon scoring).
Besides serving as the Steelers’ workhorse ball carrier, Bell caught 83 passes (tied for 19th in the NFL) for 854 yards. He also scored a total of 11 touchdowns and didn’t lose a single fumble among his 373 total touches.
Only 23 years old, Bell entered the offseason as the leading contender for being the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts this fall, and despite the suspension, I don’t see think his value changes much, if at all.
For one, Bell is appealing the suspension, and I don’t think it would surprise many if it ends up getting reduced. Whether it has no bearing on Bell’s case or not, it should be pointed out that LeGarrette Blount, who was Bell’s teammate in Pittsburgh for the first 11 games of the 2014 season, also was arrested and charged in the same August incident.
Blount, however, has been suspended just one game, the 2015 season opener. Considering the circumstances, it at least appears there’s a chance that Bell’s penalties will be revisited and possibly reduced upon appeal.
The legalities aside, the primary reason the suspension doesn’t impact Bell’s perceived value at this point is because of the lack of an alternative for the top spot. When it comes to whom to take with the No. 1 overall pick in a fantasy draft, the most logical candidates would be running backs similar to Bell, unless you’re infatuated with Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers or some other quarterback.
Along these lines, the backs that most likely come to mind are (in no particular order): DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forté. While the likelihood that Bell will now miss at least two games does matter, each of the other candidates have their own concerns/question marks.
DeMarco Murray – likely to see less carries going from Dallas (and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL) to Philadelphia. Much of Murray’s value in 2014 was tied to his workload. His 392 carries were 80 more than any other running back. He joins a more crowded backfield with Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles also in line for touches.
Related: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles: Philadelphia’s Crowded Backfield Clouds Fantasy Outlook
Jamaal Charles – His workload decreased last season despite playing in same number of games (15) and posting same yard per carry average (5.0) as he did in 2013. Also recorded 30 fewer catches in 2014 compared to ‘13.
Adrian Peterson – Played just one game before being suspended for the rest of the 2014 season. Hasn’t been officially reinstated yet and has expressed publicly a desire to be traded to another team. Barring Minnesota honoring his request, Peterson’s future is chock full of uncertainty.
LeSean McCoy – Must make transition from Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offensive system in Philadelphia to Rex Ryan’s ground-and-pound approach in Buffalo. Touches shouldn’t be an issue, but McCoy is known more for his shiftiness and big-play potential than being an in-between-the-tackles option. Also remains to be seen how McCoy will be used as pass-catcher in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s center and who will be under center.
Arian Foster – When healthy, Foster is on the same level in terms of dual-threat ability as Bell, Charles, McCoy or Forté. But injuries have been an issue, as Foster missed three games last season after playing in just eight in 2013.
Eddie Lacy – Lacy will turn 25 in June, so he’s similar to Bell in that both don’t have as much wear and tear on their tires as the others mentioned here. Lacy is clearly the Packers’ No. 1 ball carrier, but he wasn’t a workhorse (15.4 carries per game) last season, as Green Bay’s offense continues to revolve around Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
Matt Forté – Arguably the most productive pass-catching back in the league, Forté reeled in 102 receptions last season while rushing for 1,038 yards. However, with John Fox now in charge in Chicago, the Bears’ offense will look much different than it did under Marc Trestman. Not only does that mean Forté’s role could be changing, there’s also the fact that in late December, Forté will turn 30, a number that has become a bit of a red flag as it relates to running backs.
There’s no denying that the possibility of Bell missing as many as three games impacts his fantasy value. However, given the uncertainty and question marks surrounding his peers at this point, I think Bell’s fresh legs, his versatility, his stability in Pittsburgh’s offense and big-play potential are more than enough reasons to keep him near the top of any fantasy rankings., if not at No. 1.