Fantasy 5: Le’Veon Bell still an RB1 despite four-game suspension

Between the RB's production and replacement value, Bell is top 10 at the position. Jeff Ratcliffe on that and other fantasy news.

| 2 months ago
(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Fantasy 5: Le’Veon Bell still an RB1 despite four-game suspension


Every weekday, the Fantasy 5 will take a look at the five most important NFL news stories for fantasy football players, giving you the advice you need to improve your team.

Cue the Europe record, because we’re in the final countdown of the offseason. This is the last weekend before training camp opens up, and the second-to-last weekend until we have NFL football action. Almost there.

Here are five things to help fantasy owners into the final weekend of the offseason:

1. The fantasy fallout of Le’Veon Bell’s suspension.

On what initially looked to be a slow news day, the NFL dropped a bomb on the fantasy world with the news that Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league drug policy. Bell reportedly missed a drug test.

This unfortunate turn of events moves Bell out of consideration for the top running back in this year’s fantasy drafts, but his value doesn’t drop off as dramatically as some might think. Factoring in a replacement value option to Bell’s fantasy point total places him ninth in our fantasy projections. So he’s still worthy of back-end RB1 consideration. The ninth running back is currently going roughly at the turn of the second and third rounds.

With Bell suspended, DeAngelo Williams’ fantasy stock skyrockets. As of this morning, he was being drafted as the 40th running back coming off the board in the ninth round. Williams was the No. 1 fantasy running back in the 11 weeks Bell missed last season, and he can be safely slotted in as an RB1 for the first month of the season. In terms of ADP, we’re likely to see Williams move up into the sixth round immediately, and he could go as early as the fifth round in some fantasy drafts.

2. Josh Gordon watch 2.0.

Early this week in the Fantasy 5, we checked in on the potential for Josh Gordon to be welcomed back to the Browns should he be reinstated to the league. There was another development in that saga Wednesday, as Gordon met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his return to the league. No news was often good news with Gordon this offseason, but this is certainly a positive development.

Gordon isn’t eligible to apply for reinstatement until August 1, but the meeting is a step in the right direction. Per the Cleveland Plain Dealer, this meeting wouldn’t have occurred unless Gordon was “taking the necessary steps to resume his NFL career.” This is by no means a guarantee that Gordon is reinstated, but that possibility looks much greater today than it did earlier in the offseason.

At this point, Gordon is now worth a speculative late-round flier in best-ball leagues and early drafts. He’s currently going in the 12th round as the 55th wide receiver being selected. It should be noted that Gordon still has the potential to serve a shorter suspension to start the season. But even with an additional ban, he has the potential to provide massive fantasy value at his current price tag should he be reinstated.

To be continued …

3. Is Chris Johnson the Cardinals’ starting running back?

Panic set in among some David Johnson owners yesterday when ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss listed Chris Johnson as the Arizona starter. This has been Weinfuss’s stance all offseason, and there are dissenting opinions on the Cardinals beat. Cardinals.com’s Darren Urban recently said David Johnson is the unquestioned starter in this backfield.

So who’s right? Unfortunately, we won’t know for certain until Cardinals camp opens one week from today. That being said, the younger Johnson was an absolute force down the stretch last season. He has a rare combination of skills as a runner and receiver that doesn’t come around very often. While the older Johnson certainly fared well for the twilight of his career, his best role is likely as a change-of-pace back on early downs. We’re still very bullish on David Johnson as one of this year’s top fantasy running backs.

[David Johnson is going really high in fantasy drafts. Is it worth it to pay the price it takes to get him? Take a spin with PFF’s new Draft Master tool to find out, plus get recommendations on the players you should target in every round of your draft.]

4. J.J. Watt’s back surgery doesn’t impact his status as the top IDP option.

The league’s top defensive player recently underwent back surgery and could be looking at a 10-week recovery. It’s never good news when a player goes under the knife this close to the open of training camp. Watt is all but guaranteed to be on the active/PUP list in camp, and that timetable puts Watt back on the field in Week 4. That may be more of a worst-case scenario, as others have suggested a recovery time of six to eight weeks.

This development certainly has the potential to impact the Texans defense, but those considering Watt in IDP leagues shouldn’t downgrade him on draft boards. Watt is far and away the top fantasy option in full-roster IDP leagues, and missing a few games does little to change that status. Much like I’ve discussed with Tom Brady, replacement value needs to be factored into Watt’s overall value.

Some quick math shows that a replacement-level defensive lineman projects to score roughly 7.5 fantasy points per week. Watt is currently projected to average 13.5 fantasy points per week. Therefore, missing three games cuts 18 points off of his total. So Watt plus a replacement player would project to score 198 fantasy points, which is still nearly 20 points ahead of Khalil Mack – who may not be classified as a defensive lineman on your league commissioner site – and just under 46 more points than Robert Quinn, who is No. 3 in our projections. Watt is so good as a fantasy asset that missing a few games won’t change his IDP value whatsoever.

5. Melvin Gordon is a prime post-hype sleeper.

Gordon performed well in terms of forced missed tackles last year. He forced 46 on 217 touches, which gave him the eighth-highest rate among running backs. However, he’s a player the drafting public is generally avoiding, with a current ADP in the seventh round as the 32nd running back being selected.

While his rookie campaign certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouth, Gordon’s fantasy book is by no means written. The Chargers have worked to improve their blocking this season, and will likely deploy more two-back sets to help create more holes for Gordon. The second-year man also worked with Adrian Peterson this offseason to address his fumbling issue. Gordon is trending in the right direction, and is a good bet to outplay his current ADP.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

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