After the draft in late April, it’s wholly natural for some of us to go through a period of irrational rookie love. We watch their college highlight films on Youtube.com, with their bee-boppin’ hip hop jams. They’re excited and we’re excited, and everything is just so damn exciting.
The problem, of course, is that at that time and during those moments of misguided infatuation, often we forget that a rookie can’t be viewed in a vacuum. That’s especially true in terms of his fantasy impact. We’ve now learned this with the frustrating tale of Montee Ball, who seemed like the logical candidate to be the workhorse in the Broncos’ backfield immediately after the draft. Willis McGahee would be cut (which happened), and then Ronnie Hillman would slide into the background as a change of pace back on passing downs. That second part hasn’t happened yet, but it might. Or it might not.
Thus is the frustration in these early days of training camp. But if I were to make one dangerous, tip-toeing leap early (maybe not a leap but I need to sound tough, OK?), I’d say that Le’Veon Bell will be the most productive rookie running back.
In fact, I’ll say it, and I’ll say it loudly and proud-like: Le’Veon Bell will be the most productive rookie running back.
Giovani Bernard could challenge him quickly. He’s impressed early in training camp too, and with BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ sluggish plodding, it won’t be long before Bernard watching from the sideline isn’t sound thinking for the Bengals. If that ascension happens, Bernard also offers great draft value, with his current ADP sitting at 62.8, nearly 30 slots behind Bell’s (37.7).
It’ll be a fun and potentially profitable rookie competition between Bell and Bernard, with the former also offering decent value despite his higher price. Getting a featured, bell cow wearing running back in the fourth round (potentially) is a sweet buy at a scarce position.
And that’s what Bell is in these early days of camp…
Rookie Le’Veon Bell was RB w/Steelers first team offense for 4 of its 5 snaps in team drills to end practice. Carried 3 times.
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) July 29, 2013
The push Bell faces from Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer behind him will be feeble at best, after those two spent their Sundays bouncing and falling last year. Redman averaged 3.7 yards per carry on 110 carries, while Dwyer wasn’t much better at 4.0 YPC on 156 attempts. Barring a massive stumble, they’re both fighting for backup duties, and yummy table scraps behind Bell.
Between Bell running with the first team already and the zone-blocking concepts installed earlier this offseason which cater to his skillset (cut once and go, and run over some bros if you have to), he remains the best candidate among all the rookie RBs for a heavy workload early, and therefore immediate production. What’s even more appealing about Bell is his versatility. He finished his final season at Michigan State with 1,960 totals yards, 414 of which came through the air, while he scored 13 times.
In leagues where the flex spot comes into play (which is most leagues, if you’re cool), taking three running backs over your first four picks is something that’s not at all crazy given the depth at wide receiver, the unpredictable nature of the tight end position beyond the very top options, and the talent still available at quarterback in the 10th round and maybe beyond. When you do that, you’re maximizing the production potential of your flex play each week, since running backs generally receive far more opportunities and touches each game, even those on the high end of a split.
Bell’s current ADP varies widely, and is as high as the aforementioned 37.7 in some places, and as low as 66.4 in others. Somewhere in the middle is a little more comfortable, which places him as approximately a late fourth rounder. At that spot and at that price, the Steelers’ lead back who could easily get over 300 touches has dropped to the middle tier of his position.
Is that a little idealistic? Maybe. But it’s also very possible.