The case for drafting DeAngelo Williams in fantasy

When a running back the caliber of Le'Veon Bell goes down, fantasy production should suffer. That ... didn't really happen.

| 1 year ago
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The case for drafting DeAngelo Williams in fantasy

The loss of running back Le’Veon Bell should have been devastating for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. He was the No. 2 fantasy running back in the league in 2014, and if not for the fact that he was suspended for two games at the start of 2015, would likely have been the No. 1 overall pick in almost all fantasy drafts last year (and still was, in many).

So when Bell tore his MCL in Week 8 and was lost for the year, that should have been a big deal. Instead, veteran DeAngelo Williams stepped in for Bell and went wild. He finished the year as the No. 4 fantasy running back. From Week 9 on, Williams was the No. 1 fantasy running back in the league on a per-game basis, averaging 17 fantasy points a game.

The dropoff from Bell to Williams was tiny, which brings us to our Stat of the Day: Playing 16 games in 2014, Le’Veon Bell put up 287 fantasy points. In 2015, Bell and Williams combined for 279. There just wasn’t any real difference between the two backs from a fantasy standpoint — even on a per-snap basis, Williams’ 0.33 points per fantasy opportunity was only slightly behind what Bell produced in 2015 (0.35) and 2014 (0.37).

The numbers weren’t a product of the guys performing at the same time, either. In the five games Bell played and stayed healthy throughout, Williams totaled 13 carried for 35 yards. But without Bell hurt, Williams had six games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.

That’s a testament to the Steelers’ offensive line, which finished 10th in PFF’s offensive line rankings last season despite the absence of center Maurkice Pouncey, who sat out all of 2015 with a leg injury. Pouncey was PFF’s No. 3 center in 2014, and his return should only help the Pittsburgh running game.

Bell is the No. 1 running back in PFF fantasy rankings right now, and No. 3 overall. If we get word that he’s 100 percent to start the season (and he participated in minicamp), there’s a compelling argument to be made for Bell as the No. 1 overall pick.

As for Williams, he’s currently our No. 59 running back. But considering Bell’s history (he’s played 35 of a possible 48 games in his career) and the plug-and-play nature of the Pittsburgh offense, Williams is perhaps the No. 1 handcuff in all of fantasy, and that would be a strong argument for taking him higher entering 2016, even as a running back who just turned 33.

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

  • Chad

    He saved my butt when Bell went down. Ended up riding Williams to the finals only to lose but still he got me there!

    • Moralltach

      Same here. I lost my first two RBs and picked up Williams hoping for scraps. He and David Johnson carried me.