Draft Prep: Saved by the Bell

Matt Dean breaks down who should be the top pick in your draft this year.

(Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire)

We see it every year…a new running back emerges from the pack and brings many to fantasy football glory. There is dancing in the streets and jubilation all around because there is a new king atop the fake football world. Fast forward several months and that workhorse running back is at the top of the rankings and the consensus #1 overall pick, because of course a repeat of that dominance is imminent, right?

Think again.

Whether you already know your league’s draft order like mine does, or you are waiting to find out an hour before the draft, I assure you there are many out there that are hoping for the first pick of the draft…the Todd Gurley pick.

If you couldn’t tell already, this article is about who you should be taking as the #1 pick. Furthermore, if you couldn’t already tell from the title of this article and my implied sarcasm, I am not suggesting taking Todd Gurley with the most valuable pick in the draft. When your league’s Roger Goodell comes to the podium, he needs to be saying, “With the first pick of the 2018 Fantasy Football draft, the insert team selects Le’Veon Bell, RB Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Don’t believe me? Let’s make the case. Please note we will be looking at PPR Scoring, but even in standard, Bell is my choice.

The Impossible Repeat

Since Le’Veon Bell came into the league in 2013, there have been exactly 5 different running backs to finish #1 overall in PPR scoring. The tables below show how they followed up those campaigns:

Year Name Points Finish
2013 Jamaal Charles 382 RB1
2014 Jamaal Charles 253 RB7


Year Name Points Finish
2014 Le’Veon Bell 370 RB1
2015 Le’Veon Bell 111 Injured Week 6


Year Name Points Finish
2015 Devonta Freeman 317 RB1
2016 Devonta Freeman 284 RB6


Year Name Points Finish
2016 David Johnson 407 RB1
2017 David Johnson 13 Injured Week 1


Year Name Points Finish
2017 Todd Gurley 383 RB1
2018 Todd Gurley ??? ???


As you can see in the small sample size of five years, zero running backs have gone on to post another campaign worthy of the top overall pick. If we expand it to the past 10 years, it is the same story. It takes the perfect season to end up being the RB1 in fantasy football, and it is always a toss-up as to who is going to end up there in the end. This is called drafting for upside.

There is an old saying in the fantasy football world that says, “You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can definitely lose it.” Just ask the guys who drafted Mike Evans top 10 last year. Or the guys that didn’t draft Gurley or Kamara until the 3rd and 12th round respectively last year. Chances are, the RB1 at years end won’t even be drafted in the top 5.

This is where Bell comes in. What I look for in the first round is someone who is going to give me elite level talent with consistent top 3 upside at the position. Le’veon Bell has given us this on a year in and year out basis. Here are his finishes over the past 4 seasons (we are excluding his rookie season before he cut weight).

2014: RB1

2015: Was on pace for RB3 with 18.5 PPG before going down in week 6.

2016: RB3 (In only 12 Games due to suspension)

2017: RB3

Over the course of Bell’s career, if you take out his rookie season where he averaged just over 16 points per game, he is averaging a RIDICULOUS 22.8 PPG in PPR formats, 4.6 YPC, around 100 targets per year and a couple of handfuls of touchdowns.

To sum it all up, I understand if you want to follow the hot hand with Todd Gurley, or even another name that you are fond of like David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara or Antonio Brown. However, since the likes of Priest Holmes in 2002 & 2003, there has not been a back to back RB1 finish by a player. So instead of taking an RB that you hope repeats, take the Bell-cow Pittsburgh Steelers RB who has not finished outside the top 3 in points per game since his Sophomore campaign.

If there is still doubt in your mind, I will leave you with this:

2018 will be my best season to date…

To put that in perspective, that would be a stat line of: 322/1610/10 rushing & 86/855/4 receiving – good for 416.5 PPR points.

Good luck and have fun with your draft!

7 responses to “Draft Prep: Saved by the Bell”

  1. WheelT says:

    Your first ever comment.

  2. Stephen Dudas says:

    Any concern with the large workload for Bell last year? He had the workload that usually accompanies a #1 overall finish. I love Bell too and think he has one of the most defined, high usage, roles in the league which gives him a safe floor. (Injuries aside as basically an RB could get injured at any moment). Just wondering what you take on that is.

    • Matt Dean says:

      Thanks for the insight. I totally see where you are coming from with 321 being a huge number, especially in today’s game. Also, this was his first 300+ carry season and prior to last year his previous 2 years combined were still under 400 due to suspension and injury. Injuries are unpredictable unless its something nagging, so don’t worry about that. I think your last point is key in saying that his usage and role give him not only a safe floor, but the safest floor of any RB’s in the league. He’s also a patient, more finesse runner so he doesn’t get thumped up the middle on every play like AP for example in recent memory. Hope that helps.

  3. Stephen Dudas says:

    Definitely. Trying to predict injury is pretty useless, I was more wondering if that lack of production after a top year had anything to do with that touch total. My guess would be it is a bit of that, but mostly regular regression where that top guy gets hit harder because he over performed. Ideally you have a bit later pick and still get Bell because of the over valuation.

    • Matt Dean says:

      For sure, Bell will go 2, 3, or even 4 in some drafts. If that’s you and you get him that late then you’re happy with how your draft started.

  4. Aaron Rader says:

    You can’t really go wrong with Bell, Gurley, or DJ as your top choice. The track record of performance makes Bell the safest pick though. Gurley should certainly regress to the mean this year and that 20 tds will almost certainly come down. Having said that, all three backs are focal points of their offenses and volume alone makes them valuable commodities. Throw in the passing game work each receives and that makes them elite talents you cannot pass on if you have a top three pick. Especially in PPR formats

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