By Dan Rosier (@theBleagueSays)
March 17, 2019
Back Row Show Bandits!
Here we are in the middle of the #FreeAgencyFrenzy, which is also the middle of #MarchMadness, which is also in the middle of the first half of the calendar year. Right now, we are in the middle of the offseason, as we are three months away from training camps. All of this is very timely because now marks the end of the Le’Veon Bell and Pittsburgh Steelers standoff - the saga has finally ended! The ‘he said, she said’ garbage is over. Both parties have hopefully moved onto bigger and better things. The inspiring James Conner story (and form) takes over as the lead back in Pittsburgh, and Jaylen Samuels flashed down the stretch to add value to his presence too.
The cluster of running backs in the Jets locker room is now set. There is no more ‘But, but, but Isaiah Crowell has the opportunity and experience and…’, no, spare me that for another year, please. He’s not good. He was never good, that’s why he got cut. There was no value in jumping up or waiting for him. Fantasy owners should have avoided him like they did every other year. Bilal Powell is now gone after entering Free agency. They now have Bell, along with Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon who are both young, serviceable, guys who have flashed a little bit when called upon. Their place is established well behind the hot commodity that Le’Veon Bell is.
It was typical of a Le’Veon Bell-play as the news broke out. He took his time and released the information about where he was going on his terms, just like the entire 2018 season. I don’t begrudge a guy for sitting out a year to maximize his future contract - regardless of how much money he may or may not have lost. It sucks for fans of the sport that miss out seeing his brilliance every week but we know running backs have a short career-span. I don’t take the hits that he does weekly so I really shouldn’t tell him he’s wrong. If he had to do what is best for himself, then I don’t blame him at all. His teammates, I feel, are the only ones who can be aggrieved out of all of this - that’s it – no one else.
Where does that leave us in fantasy football going forward with Bell in the 2019 season?
Well, that’s a good question.
Bell has been THE guy in his team's backfield. ‘THE.’ Not ‘A.’ ‘THE.’ The Jets are paying him a lot of money to be THE guy in New York.
How much money?
Glad you asked… (courtesy of Spotrac.com):
“Le'Veon Bell signed a 4 year, $52,500,000 contract with the New York Jets, including an $8,000,000 signing bonus, $25,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $13,125,000. In 2019, Bell will earn a base salary of $2,000,000, a signing bonus of $8,000,000 and a roster bonus of $4,500,000, while carrying a cap hit of $8,500,000 and a dead cap value of $25,000,000.”
The Jets do have an out in those 4 years if they go down that route. In 2021 Bell could be cut, carrying a $4,000,000 dead cap hit (and in 2022 taking a $2,000,000 dead cap hit). He is just behind Todd Gurley in terms of being the highest paid at his position. So that put as precisely as possible, is the financials. For dynasty folks, Bell should be a Jet for the next two years at a minimum before lack of performance could lead to him being cut. He will also be 29 years of age in two years. Breathe easy for now if you have him in dynasty - statistically, he is hitting his prime now off of a full year of rest.
There are several factors to look at when drafting Le’Veon Bell in 2019: his coach Adam Gase and his young quarterback Sam Darnold, along with the Jets’ offensive line and supporting cast.
Let’s check back into this aspect of potential Bell production. I am sensing Gase will heavily dictate Bell’s production level – more so than the Bell/Darnold combination.
In Adam Gase’s first year as an NFL offensive coordinator, he was lucky to have Peyton Manning as his quarterback, and 2013 was an incredibly historic year for ‘The Chief.’ Manning led the NFL with Attempts and Completions (659:450, giving a Completion Percentage of 68.28%), Pass Attempts Per Game (41.2) and Passing Touchdowns (55), and 5477 Total Passing Yards or one Touchdown for every 12.2 Completions for every 99.58 Yards. That is incredible for a guy who was in the twilight of his career. Peyton Manning won the NFL MVP in 2013. Was this a result of all of Adam Gase’s hard work and coaching prowess? No? Wasn’t it? Right…
Peyton Manning crushed the league in 4 Points Per Touchdown scoring no less with 414 points. That’s 56 points clear of Drew Brees who finished with the second most points in 2013. All that scoring in the air is crazy because in 2013 Knowshon Moreno, the Running back for the Broncos finished 21st overall amongst all scorers, and was the RB5 to boot with 241-1038-10 (att-yds-td) on the ground, accompanied by a 74-60-548-3 (tgts-rec-yds-td) stat line through the air. That’s a whopping 237 points (which would have been the RB6 this year) in Standard Scoring formats, a clear 267 in Half PPR (or the RB5 this year), and 297 points in full PPR (the RB6 this year). In that same year as a rookie, Le’Veon Bell was the RB15 with 219 points in full PPR scoring.
On the coattails of Manning, Gase started to make his name and it looked easy. He also had success in the following years amongst both positions too:
In 2014, Peyton Manning was the QB4 before retiring with 312.7 points, and C.J. Anderson was the RB10 with 211.3 points in full PPR. Le’Veon Bell was the RB1 with 370.5 that year - his second season as a pro.
In 2015 (as the Offensive coordinator in Chicago), Adam Gase had Jay Cutler as his quarterback, who did Jay Cutler things and generally stunk. However, Matt Forte finished as the RB8 with 192.7 in Half PPR. Bell had a down year and ended poorly, due to suspension and an injury which reduced his season to only playing six games.
In 2016, Adam Gase moved teams again and got his first head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill was his quarterback, and while playing 13 games only, Ryan Tannehill finished as the QB27. However, along a running back trend was Jay Ajayi who did ok with 201.8 points in Half PPR - which was good for the RB11 slot - while Bell produced and was the RB3 with 279.9 points.
In 2017, a mix of Matt Moore, Jay Cutler and a few other ringers under center, the Dolphins struggled. However, from Weeks 9-17 when he took over the starters role, Kenyan Drake was the RB8, with 122.8 points in Half PPR - Bell was the RB2 with 299.1 points over the whole season.
In 2018 with a mix of forgettable quarterbacks that did pretty much nothing (again), Kenyan Drake was somewhat of a shining light finishing as the RB17 in Half PPR with 179.7 points in a committee with an aged Frank Gore. Bell, as we know sat out the season
Adam Gase, unless he has had a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback at his disposal has not had great production from that position. However, Gase with running backs - particularly those who can receive well - tend to thrive. I mentioned Knowshon Moreno previously, but Matt Forte in 13 games had 58 targets, 44 receptions, 389 yards and 3 TDs. This production somewhat mirrored Moreno’s 74-60-548-3 stat line from 2013; over a full 16 games, Forte would have plugged a 71-54-478-4 line that season.
What's incredible is the similarities between Le’Veon Bell, Moreno, and Forte. On average, in the receiving game alone, Bell accrues 79-62-532-1 in a season. Bell has only been over 300 carries once in his career and averages 245 attempts per game too - which is skewed due to the six-game season he had in 2015. Is it fair to say Bell may hit over 300 combined touches this season? I think it can happen.
Is high output for Bell going to be great for Sam Darnold? There are two ways to look at this. I have mentioned above Gase’s track record with final quarterback fantasy production, but what about Le’Veon Bell with Ben Roethlisberger? If you track Le’Veon Bell’s seasons, you can somewhat see where Ben Roethlisberger has finished well in fantasy football. Now, I know Roethlisberger has had a first-class squad at his disposal, but for the sake of simplifying please bear with me. How about this:
In 2017, Le’Veon Bell was the RB2 (19.2 PPG), Ben Roethlisberger was the QB11 (17.4 PPG).
In 2016, Le’Veon Bell was the RB4 (23.3 PPG), Ben Roethlisberger was the *QB18 (18.0 PPG).
In 2014, Le’Veon Bell was the RB2 (20.5 PPG), Ben Roethlisberger was the QB5 (19.1 PPG).
In 2013, Le’Veon Bell (in his Rookie season) was the RB15 (15.2 PPG), Ben Roethlisberger was the QB11 (16.3 PPG).
* Roethlisberger missed two games in 2016; at his average of 18 PPG, he would be finished as the QB6.
Darnold had a mixed bag of results as a Rookie, which is to be expected. However, towards the end of the season, it looked like he had a lightbulb go off and he started to settle into a rhythm. Over the last four games of the season, Sam Darnold was the QB12 with 64.9 (16.22 PPG) points. What is more telling is the production of his running back Elijah McGuire who was the RB11 with 55.9 points (13.97 PPG) in Half PPR. McGuire over that four-game span went 15-11-126-1 in the receiving game alone which projects to 60-44-504-4 over a full 16-week season. Do those numbers seem kind of familiar? It’s slightly lower than Bell/Forte/Moreno production, and it was an option for Darnold. And now he gets, arguably, one of the best receiving running backs in the game at his disposal.
All of this has the needle pointing up, correct? Gase has good running back production especially in the receiving game. Darnold was starting to finish strong and found his receiving running back at the end of the season. Cool. Here’s the catch for me. Or perhaps two catches. Either way…
The NY Jets Offensive Line struggles
Pro Football Focus (Profootballfocus.com) had the Jets offensive Line as the 25th ranked unit at the end of the season. That doesn’t sound great. Considering that they were ranked behind the NY Giants, Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars - all of which had horrible front fives -and it seems that much worse. They did bring in former All-Pro Kelechi Osemele from Oakland to play at left guard which is something, and Kelvin Beachum, Brian Winters, and Brandon Shell are all returning. They were fine but it looks like the Jets could still make an upgrade by bringing in a center in free agency or the NFL Draft.
2. Adam Gase’s 2018 Miami Offenses ineffectiveness
Under Gase the Dolphins struggled in a few key metrics that I feel held them back. Miami ranked 31st overall in 3rd Down Conversion (30.1%). They had a 51.6% red zone percentage and were the 26th ranked offense of the league as well. They were 18th overall in rushing yards per game (which is not bad for our guy Le’Veon Bell), but were 20th in the league for rushing success with a 46% success rate at 4.6 YPA, but that dipped to 27th in the league when they trekked into the opposition red zone - which is scary because they ran the least amount of rushing plays in red zone with only 35 attempts at a dismal 3.2 YPA.
Everything you see here about the Dolphins screams inconsistent and at best ‘less than average.’ That is what we saw from an Adam Gase-lead Offense last season, which, if you are a Bell owner, must be a concern. However, I think Bell is banking on his talent and on Darnold progressing from his rookie numbers being different in 2019. The Jets, dare I say it, are better set up as an offense this year than what the Dolphins were on offense in 2018.
Attempts: 281 / YPA: 4.4 / Yards: 1236.4 / TDS: 8
Targets: 85 / Receptions: 62 / YPR: 8.2 / 508.4 / TDS: 3
Touches: 343 / Yards: 1744.8 / TDS: 11
Le’Veon Bell is arguably one of the best running backs in the league. He is a game-changer that developed a style that is hard to stop and is different in its approach. His use of directing his offensive line and his sudden burst of speed is unlike any other. I get the appeal of why anyone would want him if the price is right. For the Jets and Bell, it was. Bell holds the key to many of his teammates. He can be the primary focus on offense, ideally unlocking Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, and Chris Herndon while offering short-pass relief to Sam Darnold. Everyone around him by proxy should get better. I can see a world where Bell slips out of that first tier of running backs taken off the draft board, and I understand the reasons why. I have fewer reservations about Le’Veon Bell and his new team and situation than I do Todd Gurley - last year’s RB1 - who has unknown knee injuries and is continually ranked ahead of him. My projection above is extremely generous, but I have a feeling his talent will win out in the end, helping the New York Jets along the way to a shot at a wild card spot in the AFC in 2019. A lot must go right for all this to happen, but if someone can create something out of nothing - it will be Le’Veon Bell doing so.
And on that note, that will about do me for this week!
Check out (@FootballNuke) Chris Foster and Matthew Bruening’s (@SportsfanaticMB) this offseason. We have more great content coming your way, keep an eye out (or both eyes, whatever you prefer really) for that.
If you haven’t already also (which would be shocking considering you’re on their website), give @Barkbackrow, @Knitbackrow and @Armsbackrow a follow and get around @hucksbackrow for his fantastic DFS plays of the week during that season too!
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