He’s not a handcuff. Joique Bell is a starting fantasy running back.
In 2013, a back entering the season as a backup went on to finish the year as a top-17 fantasy running back, and, via Denny Carter of XN Sports, scored a fantasy point every single time he touched the football in PPR formats. It was the second consecutive season that Bell hauled in at least 50 passes out of the backfield, which has been monumental to his fantasy value. And after the Detroit Lions rewarded him with a two-year, $7 million dollar extension, you know that will continue to have big plans for him in their high-octane offense.
The Detroit Offense
Pass, pass, pass.
The Lions have been one of the league’s pass-heaviest units lately, ranking inside the top-six in the NFL in pass attempts per game in each of the last five seasons. It’s been a big reason behind Bell’s emergence as a pass-catcher, but Scott Linehan is gone, and while the Lions are still going to throw the football a ton, new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is very, very familiar with both of his running backs.
Reggie Bush ran under Lombardi for five seasons in New Orleans, while Bell served as a running back on the Saints practice squad. Lombardi recently stated that he envisions the two in a split role, both being very productive. It makes sense, too, as the Saints were a full-blown committee backfield during Lombardi’s time in New Orleans. In fact, during that time, Bush posted carry totals of 155, 157, 106, 70 and 36 during his five seasons with the Saints, and while he will probably eclipse those numbers this year, I don’t think Bell will be too far behind.
Last year, Bell was the more productive rusher, averaging 0.76 fantasy points per touch, compared to Bush’s 0.68. And, of course, he vultured plenty of touchdowns from Bush, finding the end zone eight times on the ground. And while for a little bit, Bush was “the guy”, Bell continued to cut more and more into his work, ultimately finishing with 29 red zone looks, just eight fewer than Bush. That’s very notable, especially when you consider that Detroit ranked 8th in red zone scoring attempts per game last year (3.5), and ranked inside the top-1- in each of the last three years. I’m not sure Detroit will run the ball enough, but I see a lot of similarities in the Buffalo offense. You have Bush, the more elusive, flashy, talented back who can hit the home run. He is C.J. Spiller. Then there’s Bell, a back better suited for goal line work who can also catch the ball out of the backfield, but simply gets the job done. Hello, Fred Jackson. Last year, both Bills rushers posted 200 attempts, and if Detroit runs the ball enough, it’s a possibility that these two could do the same.
Bell actually finished the season with more total snaps than Bush, and both saw over 10 percent of the team’s targets. Bush still averaged four more fantasy points per 100 snaps, but all signs in Detroit are pointing to a split backfield, and in 2013, it wasn’t quite a split, yet Bell still finished as a top-20 fantasy running back. If his usage sees a bit of an uptick, as expected, we could be looking at a potential top-12 running back at season’s end.
And you’d be getting him relatively cheap, too.
Running back is once again scarce in fantasy land, which is why Bush is being drafted in the early third round. Bell, meanwhile, is currently being selected in round six. It’s pretty obvious which player is the better value, especially when you consider that both last year, Bell had more touchdowns and just one less reception than Bush, despite playing about four fewer snaps per contest. You can get very, very similar production for a cheaper price tag, and if you are one of the drafters who like to load up at WR, I’d be content with Bell as my second running back, especially in PPR leagues. And when you consider that Bush is not exactly sipping out of the fountain of health, it only enhances the case for Bell.
So, Bush in round three or practically the same production three rounds later? I’m siding with Bell on this one.
He’s no longer just a handcuff, folks.