In this latest edition of fantasy football “Face-Off”, it’s another battle of second-year running backs pitting Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers against Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals. For those not familiar with my format, I’ll make a case for each guy and then make a final decision with some further (and more critical) analysis offered.
The Case For Le’Veon Bell
Bell missed the first three games of his rookie season with a foot injury, but he quickly became an all-around producer with at least 80 combined rushing and receiving yards in 11 of his 13 games. That included an eight-game stretch (Week 10-Week 17) where he averaged 104 total yards per game and scored 10 total touchdowns (five rushing, five receiving).
Bell’s yards per-carry average for the season was a fairly dismal 3.52, but improvement over the final five games (four games averaging more than four yards per carry) lends hope for a boost in that category this year. Bell reported to training camp at 232 pounds, which is 12 pounds lighter than he played at last season and means he should be faster and more agile.
The Case For Giovani Bernard
After a slow start, with 72 carries for 282 rushing yards over the first eight games, Bernard averaged 86 total yards per game over the final eight games. That coincided with an increased role, with double-digit carries in each of the final seven games.
Even with a relatively small role, Bernard finished with the seventh-most receptions among running backs (56). A bigger overall role puts 60-70 receptions, and 250-300 total touches, well within reach for him this year.
Bell and Bernard are both going off the board in the middle of the second round right now, regardless of scoring format. Bell’s average draft position (18th overall) is unchanged in standard or PPR drafts (per Fantasy Pros.com), while Bernard jumps four spots in PPR drafts (17th overall).
Bell and Bernard are both in line for 300-plus touches this year, which puts them in rare air with multi-back rotations prevalent around the league. Both could give up some goal line carries to a backup, but I don’t see LeGarrette Blount siphoning much fantasy value from Bell and Bernard shouldn’t be impacted greatly by rookie Jeremy Hill.
Bell suffered a concussion late last season, which creates some durability concerns when coupled with his foot injury, but a bigger workload adds some injury risk to drafting Bernard as well. Add in my overall hesitancy to rely on Bernard as a RB1, at least without backing him up by using a later pick on Hill, and Bell becomes a surprisingly easy choice for me here.