When it comes to the modern-day running back, many will argue that starting-caliber talent doesn’t need to be selected in the first round due to the eventual payday they will seek given their draft value. See the likes of Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt and James Conner, all 2017 3rd rounders who have been forces in the league since their rookie campaigns.
However, when the top free-agent prize of the offseason is a running back who was among the league’s best when we last saw him, you do not ignore his capabilities. Insert Le’Veon Bell, the dual-threat weapon the New York Jets, in my opinion, had to sign. However, Bell’s success on this young Jets team falls in the lap of his new head coach, Adam Gase.
The Belle of the Ball
You remember Bell, don’t you? You may have drafted him last year in the 1st round, hoping his holdout wouldn’t last more than a week or two. Well, those early weeks came and went, and there was no sign of his return. You kept your head up and held on, hoping he would be back mid-season to aid in your push for the playoffs.
Spoiler, Bell never saw the field, and you were left with a ‘wasted’ premier pick; unless of course you had the foresight to move him. Surely if presented with the chance this season, you wouldn’t look to burn yourself again, would you? Say what you want, but I’m here to remind you just how important Bell was when he was playing, and how pivotal he can be for Sam Darnold; the second year signal-caller for a Jets team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
I understand there are concerns with Bell heading into this season, and I can proactively lay some out for you:
- He’s two years older, and a year removed from gameplay.
- He will have a much shakier offensive line in front of him than he was used to in Pittsburgh. The Jets line ranked 25th at the end of 2018-19, per Pro Football Focus.
- He’s joining a young Jets team whose new HC has drawn negative attention most recently for his prior use of Kenyan Drake during his Miami tenure. Per Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros :
- His (Gase’s) offense has averaged less than 59 plays per game over the last three years and his running backs haven’t been getting carries near the goal line, which is why they combined for just 10 rushing touchdowns over the last two years.
This is quite a bit to take in but fear not, as there is always the flip side to consider.
It might be best for a quick look at how having a year off can bode for a running back. Enter Marshawn Lynch, who stepped away from Seattle in 2015, and returned to join his hometown Raiders in 2017.
This data, pulled from Pro Football Reference, simply highlights said years for Lynch. Having racked up 891 yards in 15 games total, ‘Beast Mode’ accomplished this two years older than from when we last saw him play. Bell will be entering this season at only 27 years old, four years younger than Lynch was.
The rush attempts nearly doubled for him in Oakland, as did his TD total and longest run on the year. Granted, his offensive line ranked eighth on the season according to Pro Football Focus, whereas Bell will have a bottom of the barrel unit in front of him in New York. What plays greatly for Bell is the difference in age, and his vastly superior ability to be used as a pass-catcher.
The Catch & Run
In 62 career regular-season games, Bell has accumulated 312 receptions for 2,660 yards and 7 scores. Having this skill set will play a major role for Darnold when push comes to shove and he needs to get rid of the ball quicker than anticipated. He can line up in the backfield, flank to his left or right, and wait on the screen pass. He can even line up as a receiver, look above! His capabilities are not in question, however.
His production potential is predicated on the usage in which Gase will deploy him. Gase has notoriously not used his running backs in a, (pardon the pun), bell-cow burden; see Drake and Jay Ajayi. Bell is no stranger to that workload, having carried the ball 1,229 times for 5,336 yards since 2013. Gase must change from his RB usage that frankly didn’t garnish much success with the Dolphins. Wasting Bell’s talents will be damaging not only for the franchises financial investment – 4 years $52.5M with $27M guaranteed – but also the growth of Darnold and co.
In recent months, Gase has debunked reports that the team would explore Bell-trade options prior to the start of the season, and that he didn’t believe he was worth the money he’s been paid. Bell also chimed in on the matter back in June:
“This is a business,” said Bell, who reported to the team and participated in its first minicamp practice after skipping the voluntary portion of the offseason. “Even if the report was true, obviously he doesn’t feel like I’m not a great player.
“Maybe he just feels like, ‘Dang, maybe we could’ve got more great players.’ I don’t know. What I’m saying is, me and him, our relationship is great.”
Whether this is smoke and mirrors to throw off the media, both Bell and Gase have clearly taken an approach to clear the air on the rapport they have with one another early on. Gase has also noted he knows what Bell brings to the table, yet has no intention to “burn him out in the first six months.” This is where you can’t forget about Elijah McGuire, Ty Montgomery, and Bilal Powell who may all have a role in the backfield alongside Bell.
Because I’m Saved By The…
The Jets have not had a running back like this at their disposal since Curtis Martin, who Bell ironically looked up to in his youth. You’re going to want him on your fantasy roster now that there is no fear of a continued holdout in the way, but at what cost? I still believe he will produce and finish as a top-10 RB, due to the reliance Darnold will have on him, and his motivation to prove any doubters wrong. In all reality, he’s a borderline Round 1 selection if your pick is later rather than one of the first few.
If he’s sitting there for you Round 2, you shouldn’t hesitate to grab him. An interesting approach to take with drafting him is that you can argue you are drafting into Gase’s philosophy as well. With fan base expectations at its boiling point for this Jets team to be a playoff contender, Gase can save himself of any backlash, as long as he properly reintroduces the league to the once-dominant Lev’ Bell.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire