When the Pittsburgh Steelers used their second-round pick in April’s draft on running back Le’Veon Bell, the rookie immediately went to the top of the depth chart and became a favorite in fantasy football circles. But a knee injury limited Bell early in training camp, and now a right foot injury is expected to sideline him for around six weeks.
The Steelers already had Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and LaRod Stephens-Howling in their running back mix behind Bell, but they still acquired Felix Jones from the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday in exchange for linebacker Adrian Robinson. Jones signed with the Eagles in May, and obviously never played a meaningful snap for them.
Bell may only miss the first month of the regular season and is still draftable in fantasy leagues as long as that timetable holds up, but are any other Steelers’ running backs worth drafting?
It seems like a long time since Jones has been a viable fantasy option, but he did have 800 rushing yards along with 48 catches for 450 yards with the Dallas Cowboys in 2010. His exact role with the Steelers is unclear, but a knee injury that may sideline Stephens-Howling for the rest of the preseason could open up an opportunity for Jones to at least secure a roster spot.
Redman had 410 rushing yards last season, highlighted by a 26-carry, 147-yard effort against the New York Giants in Week 9, but he never had double-digit carries in a game after that and only reached 10 carries in a game four times all season. Redman should see plenty of playing time while Bell is sidelined, but fantasy owners should not rely on him for consistent production.
Dwyer was Pittsburgh’s leading rusher in 2012 with 623 yards on 156 carries in 13 games, including two 100-yard games. He had been thought to be on the roster bubble for a time this preseason, but Bell’s injury basically assures he’ll have some kind of role for the Steelers early in the season.
Stephens-Howling looks likely to be ready for Week 1, which may make Jones nothing more than a camp body, but the former Arizona Cardinal is unlikely to register on the fantasy radar.
The Steelers’ backfield situation will be a source of frustration for fantasy owners for the foreseeable future, from Bell’s injury to how carries will be split in his absence. It’s unclear who will get a chance to emerge as the No. 1 back for Pittsburgh for however long Bell winds up being out, if anyone, and without any assertion from head coach Mike Tomlin or offensive coordinator Todd Haley it will be a weekly guessing game for fantasy owners.
I think Bell is still the Steelers’ running back with the most fantasy value for 2013, but those that draft him obviously need to make sure they are well-situated at running back during the early part of the season.
When faced with a potential running back committee, as the Steelers look certain to have during September, I find it’s best to lean toward the back who will get the majority of the goal line work. Who that will be for Pittsburgh early in the season has to be in doubt, since Redman and Dwyer have not shown a nose for the end zone during their careers (seven combined rushing touchdowns-Redman-five; Dwyer-two).
I would lean toward Dwyer seeing more work when the Steelers enter the red zone early in the season, since he had 35 rushing touchdowns during his three seasons at Georgia Tech. That makes him worth a late-round flier in fantasy drafts, and it’s possible Dwyer retains some value after September if Bell is eased back into action upon his return.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.