I’d like to take this time to apologize to all of the Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase.
Why? Well, a few weeks after the NFL draft, I started my 2013 fantasy rankings by position. At the time, I ranked rookie back Montee Ball as my 22nd ranked back, with Steelers’ draft pick Le’Veon Bell a couple of spots behind him at 24. Again, at the time, I simply thought Ball was in the better situation to become a better fantasy option in his first season. Well, it is now August 1st, 2013, and I am admitting that I was dead wrong. Out of all of the rookie running back entering the league this season, from a fantasy perspective, none should be ranked ahead of Bell.
Bell landed in the best spot to earn top playing time right away in Pittsburgh. Last season, the Steelers saw a handful of different running backs, including guys like Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman. Bell is clearly more explosive than both of these guys, and offensive line coach, Jack Bicknell Jr. believes that his rookie back is a terrific fit for the Steelers’ new zone-blocking scheme. I fully expect Bell to be Pittsburgh’s number one back on the depth chart entering Week 1 of the season, so what does that mean for his fantasy prospects?
The Steelers love to run the football. Over the past three seasons, this unit ranks fifth in rushing attempts inside an opponent’s three-yard line. With that being said, there is some serious touchdown potential with Bell, just as long as the Steelers’ offense, as well as offensive line, can get the job done. Remember Rashard Mendenhall? For a certain period of time, this guy was a very fantasy relevant running back when healthy. However, he was very touchdown dependent, and even when he did find the endzone, the majority of them weren’t that impressive. In fact, 24 of Mendenhall’s 29 career rushing scores were from inside the five yard line. I think Bell is a more talented, versatile back than Mendenhall who is strong enough to get the job done in short yardage situations, but with Todd Haley calling the plays, will likely be featured in more than just the running game. During his time as the offensive coordinator in Arizona in 2007-08, Haley’s starting running backs were 30-catch guys. During Bell’s time at Michigan State, he posted two 30-catch seasons, so I think that number of grabs in his rookie campaign are very likely. Of course, considering how atrocious the offensive line was last season, Bell will need to prove that he can pass block in order to consistently see the field.
I think with how poorly they ran the ball last season and losing Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh will want to establish a running game, as they have looked to do in the past. Haley stated that Bell is a “three-down back”, and if he wins the starting job, which I’m assuming he will, Bell will likely be the only rookie back that will be a true three-down back. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Bell is the first rookie back coming off of the board (4.02), while guys like Ball and Eddie Lacy are going 4.06 and 5.08. Bell will be the top fantasy rookie back in 2013.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.