Punch Drunk Wonderland

Late-Round Running Backs Le’Veon Bell Owners Should Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

With Le’Veon Bell’s 2015 suspension reduced to two games, fantasy owners are rejoicing and his draft position is sliding back up. Many consider him to be the top player off the board for 2015 fantasy drafts. But, how do you play it if you’re a fantasy owner who will be taking Bell? You have to make sure you have production during the suspension weeks, and you definitely want a safety net. As we’ve covered many times already, value is at a premium in fantasy drafts. So, who are those players that Bell owners should target as ready-to-play handcuffs? Our friends at numberFire have taken a look at that very question.

With the news that Bell will be back on the Steelers active roster by Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams — as last season’s most productive back by far according to our Net Expected Points metrics (read more about Net Expected Points, or NEP, in our glossary) — many are once again arguing that Bell deserves consideration as the top overall player drafted in leagues this season.

The question still remains though: What can Le’Veon Bell owners do to compensate for the fact that they’ll be without their first-round pick for the first two weeks of the season?

The obvious answer is to target his fill-in later on in their drafts, looking for undervalued running backs that could put up good-to-great production in the first two weeks that Bell is out.

And to identify these tailbacks, I used three major criteria:

1. He has to be the team’s lead back to start the season — which should guarantee him a generous proportion of his team’s workload over the first two games of the year — but must also have rest-of-season value with RB2 upside.
2. As someone who will be a backup running back for your team, his ADP must be beyond the fifth round in standard 12-team leagues.
3. Over the first two games of the season, he must have a favorable schedule with games against teams with run defenses ranked in the bottom-half of the league according to our metrics.

Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 1 & 2 Schedule (Def Rank): vs. TEN (#31), at NO (#32)
ADP (Std/PPR): 72/77

Recently, I wrote about why Doug Martin was the back to own in Tampa Bay and why he was a great bargain at his current mid-to-late round ADP as the Buccaneer’s likely early-down workhorse.

Now we have another reason to target him in the middle of your draft this upcoming season: He has arguably the easiest two-week opening schedule of any running back being drafted beyond the fifth round.

The Bucs open the season at home against Tennessee, the 31st-ranked run defense according to our numbers before going to New Orleans to face the 32nd-ranked run defense in the Saints.

And when we measure the efficiency of these run defenses according to our Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, it’s obvious why these two teams fall to the bottom of the barrel. For those unfamiliar, Adjusted Defensive NEP is our measure of how many points a team gives up or takes away from an opponent adjusted for strength of schedule and situation (down and distance). Last season, Tennessee and New Orleans were on average giving up 0.05 and 0.11 NEP per rushing play, good for 29th and 32nd in the league.

For the Titans, after passing on defensive tackle Leonard Williams in the draft and instead opting to focus on the revamping the offense with selections of Marcus Mariota and Dorial Green-Beckham in the first two rounds, there isn’t much reason to be optimistic for Tennessee’s run defense this season.

And for the Saints, the release of starting defensive lineman Junior Galette this past week and the propensity for Rob Ryan to overuse the nickel package and regularly trot out just two linebackers onto the field likely means things won’t get much better for their run defense in 2015.

With the Bucs coaching staff giving Doug Martin a chance to prove that he’s the best early-down back on the roster, and facing two bottom-ranked defenses to start the season, Bell owners could do worse than use Doug Martin as a spot-starter during Bell’s two game suspension. And given his role on this team, if he starts the season on a roll, he could carry this momentum into the rest of the season to provide solid RB2 value for fantasy managers willing to take a chance on him in the middle rounds of the draft.

Chris Ivory, New York Jets

Week 1 & 2 Schedule (Def Rank): vs. CLE (#19), at IND (#16)
ADP (Std/PPR): 84/93

The Jets brought in Stevan Ridley and Zac Stacy this offseason to provide competition to Chris Ivory for the team’s early-down role. However, with Ridley less than a year removed from ACL surgery and with a decent chance to start the year on the PUP list, and Stacy’s productivity in decline, Ivory’s role as the team’s lead back looks to be safe for now.

And with two juicy matchups to open the year, this may be just what Ivory needs to solidify his starter status in this backfield and what fantasy football owners are looking for in their Le’Veon Bell replacement during his two game absence.

While I expect Ivory to get a fair amount of work in Week 1 against the Browns’ 19th-ranked run defense, likely receiving a heavy dose of carries in the second half of the game as they milk a lead and bleed the clock, Ivory and the Jets face a somewhat tougher task in Week 2 going up against the Colts and their 16th-ranked run defense.

The Colts struggled to stop the run last year, which should play to Ivory’s strengths as a bruising, tackle-breaking back. Much of these problems start with their young, inexperienced, and inconsistent defensive line. But if their high-octane offense can get out to a big lead against the Jets, then New York may be forced to deviate from a run-heavy game plan and air it out in an attempt to keep up with Indy. And with third-down backs Bilal Powell and Daryl Richardson on the roster to take over pass catching duties, Ivory may find himself on the sidelines if the defense can’t keep the score within reach.

Despite the crowded backfield in New York, even if Ridley and Stacy manage to eat into Ivory’s workload, his floor as a low-end RB2 should remain intact. Indeed, last season while playing in a timeshare with Chris Johnson, Ivory managed to end the year as RB19 in standard scoring leagues. And given his late-round ADP, the price is right for Bell owners to take a chance on Ivory early in the year with the opportunity he pans out as a viable weekly option for them for the remainder of the season.

Continue reading at numberFire.com… (@numberfire)


K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...