Reserve running backs aren’t usually a hot commodity in fantasy football, but for Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell, an exception can be made.
In just two full seasons with the Lions, Bell has turned into one of Detroit’s top offensive weapons, contributing as both a tough runner and a dependable receiver out of the backfield. In terms of his fantasy value this season, I’m buying him as a solid No. 2 running back and an excellent flex player.
In 2013, 25 running backs gained more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Bell was one of them. So was Reggie Bush, Detroit’s starting running back and $16 million investment last offseason. However, Bell was one of just five backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark while starting less than eight games. And among those, only Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals (zero starts) and Fred Jackson of the Buffalo Bills (six) beat his 1,197 yards from scrimmage.
Overall, Bell’s 2,096 yards from scrimmage over the last two seasons ranks 21st among running backs, and first among those with 10 or fewer starts.
While 1,064 of his yards over the last two seasons have come on the ground, Bell has quickly developed into one of the NFL‘s best receiving backs. Since 2012, he’s caught 105 passes, ranking seventh among all running backs, for 1,032 yards. He’s one of only three backs with over 1,000 yards receiving over the last two seasons, joining Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead.
Bell has carried the ball 243 carries since 2012 and has averaged 4.3 YPC, scoring 11 touchdowns. That ties him with LeSean McCoy for 18th-most, but ranks Bell higher than other premier backs like Bush, C.J. Spiller and Maurice Jones-Drew. According to Pro Football Focus, 640 of Bell’s 1,064 rushing yards over the last two seasons have come after contact. During that time period, he has forced 74 missed tackles, including 44 while as a running back.
One disadvantage for Bell, however, is that he has to split carries and receptions with Bush out of the backfield. It was Bush, not Bell, who led the Lions in rushing yards (1,006 to 650) and total yards (1,512 to 1,197). Another disadvantage for Bell is that Detroit upgraded their receiving corps this offseason, so his receiving statistics could take a dip in 2014. With the additions of free agent Golden Tate and first-round pick Eric Ebron, the ball will be spread around even more than last year as six receivers recorded more than 30 receptions, including Bush (54) and Bell (53).
Some advantages for Bell heading into this season include Bush’s inconsistency as the former Heisman Trophy winner had nine dropped passes and four lost fumbles last season. Bush’s durability is also a question mark as he missed two games last season and left parts of others with various injuries.
I honestly don’t any negatives when it comes to drafting Bell for your team. First off, you can get him in the fifth to seventh rounds, while Bush will being overdrafted in the second or third round. Both will have similar stat lines at season’s end, so Bell should be the Lions running back who you should target.
If he finished among the top-20 fantasy running backs in a reserve role last year, he can produce even more this season, especially with a bigger workload.