Deep Sleeping: Joique Bell


Hello there. This is a post in which we’ll bravely explore the dark and deepest depths of depth charts, looking for sleepers who are sometimes absurdly deep that you should watch out for either as a late-round flier, or an early season waiver wire add. I’ll also be wrong often in this post, so you can enjoy that too.

Reggie Bush is set to be a superman in Detroit, if you listen to anyone who’s said anything about Reggie Bush since he signed with the Lions (*points two thumbs at self*). In theory, he’s in an offense that intends to ask him to do what he does best, which isn’t run between the tackles, or any sort of power running (though he can do that, sparsely). Bush is great in space, and to get him in space, he needs to catch passes and be a consistent receiving threat out of the backfield. He did that over the past two years in Miami, but his receiving numbers there were far lower than previously in his career, when he caught 88 and 73 balls in his first two seasons.

In his rookie year, those 88 catches led to a career high 742 receiving yards, high watermarks that are within reach now, which is what’s propelled Bush’s ADP to a late second-round level.

But there will be plenty of footballs flying in Detroit, enough that another name directly behind Bush on the Lions’ running back depth chart can scratch your late-round lottery tickets, especially for those in point-per-reception leagues. Let’s reacquaint ourselves with Joique Bell.

A few weeks ago the Lions’ first training camp depth chart listed Mikel Leshoure ahead of Joique Bell as the No. 2 running back behind Bush, and when the Preseason ends, the last one might too. Although Bell may see fewer carries and touches, the roles of the two backs behind Bush will be defined far beyond a number.

LeShoure will be asked to run several yards, and score touchdowns. That’s all he does, and it’s all he’s really good at thus far in his NFL career which has consisted of plodding followed by stumbling. LeShoure received 215 carries during his first full season last year after struggling with injuries, and he did little with them. Mostly, he ran, hit a body, and fell.

He averaged only 3.7 yards per carry, and remarkably despite his fair-sized workload he didn’t have a single play which would fit the definition of chunk yardage. LeShoure didn’t record a carry of 20 yards or more, with his longest run only 16 yards. Yet despite his nothingness, he was highly efficient at the goal-line, scoring nine times. Soak that in for a second, and consider that even though he had 133 more carries, Adrian Peterson outscored LeShoure by only three touchdowns.

Alright then, so we know LeShoure’s ideal role, and the only way in which he can be used effectively. Back to Bell, who’s far more versatile and still has value in a deep PPR league, even with Bush sucking back the majority of the targets out of the backfield.

The Lions will surely run more with Bush aboard, because they’re paying him $16 million over the next four years to improve that aspect of their offense. But there won’t by any means be an abrupt shift in identity. The Lions are a passing team, one that led the league last year with 727 attempts, and has asked Matthew Stafford to throw 1,390 times over the past two years. Yes, an average of 43.4 times per game.

That means there are plenty of balls to go around, and plenty of hands to be called upon to catch them, our boy Bell included. Jim Schwartz said so himself earlier this offseason when asked about Bell:

“It looks like he can contribute in a lot of ways. We have plenty of carries in our offense for a lot of different running backs. We’ve got plenty of touches in our offense for a lot of different skill players. We’re not going to run out of people to run the ball or run out of people to throw the ball to. All of them have little different strengths, little bit different things that they can contribute. Once we get there, we’ll try to put them in the best positions.”

Bell is the automatic Bush handcuff because he’s the most Bush-like running back on the roster. On 52 catches last year he had 485 yards, which placed him fifth among running backs in receiving yards. Add in his 414 yards on just 82 carries (5.0 yards per carry), and even on the surface layer Bell was a far more effective and useful running back last year than Leshoure.

It gets better. Over his minimal touches (134 overall) Bell forced 26 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also notes a particularly impressive feat of strength: in Week 6 against the Eagles, Bell made four tacklers miss on just seven carries. Even more remarkable is that although he was given 128 more touches last year in Miami, Bush forced just 10 more missed tackles than Bell. Also, Bell averaged 2.99 yards after contact to Bush’s 2.06.

That kind of open-field elusiveness doesn’t sit on a bench, even if Bell is solidly behind Bush. He’s the kind of player who forces coaches to be creative, and find ways to give him opportunities. And on an offense that throws in abundance, there could be enough of them to make Bell more than just your standard handcuff. He was quietly the 29th ranked fantasy running back last year despite his limited usage, and that’s even using standard scoring. In those leagues then he should be monitored closely early on the waiver wire, and in deep-ish PPR leagues, he’s a fine late-round flier

Bonus: Bell also has great field coverage against streakers, if your league rewards points for that.