Steelers Sign LeGarrette Blount
When the New England Patriots acquired LeGarrette Blount in a seemingly meaningless trade last year, it seemed he was destined for the unemployment line. New England was well stocked at the position, after all, and Blount seemed washed up after a good rookie year.
Blount defied fate, however, making his way onto the roster primarily as a kick returner, of all things. He held onto that job for much of the season, and the Patriots increasingly relied on him as a running back as the season wore on.
It culminated in a 166-yard, four-touchdown supernova against the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional playoff game. You could feel it coming after Blount finished the season on a bit of a tear, rushing for 263 yards and four touchdowns over the final two regular season games. He crashed to earth with a huge thud in the following game against the Denver Broncos, though the Patriots didn’t exactly give him an opportunity to get going in that game.
Blount’s big finish was helped in part by injuries and fumbleitis elsewhere in the Patriots backfield last season. Shane Vereen has been a bit brittle since entering the league, and Stevan Ridley coughed up the ball like he had the football flu. It wasn’t enough for the Patriots to make a serious effort to keep him, however, and Blount landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a two-year, $3.85 million deal.
Blount signed on as a backup running back, to be sure. However sliced, though, this is a blow to Le’Veon Bell’s fantasy value.
With Isaac Redman, Felix Jones, Jonathan Dwyer and La’Rod Stephens-Howling all gone, Bell was clear of any serious competition for playing time next season. That fleeting freedom had him in the discussion for a preseason top-10 ranking at the position. After all, Bell clocked in at 13th in standard scoring last season despite missing the first three games of the season.
Blount’s arrival throws a wet blanket on that discussion. That is not to say Bell won’t still start and garner the majority of playing time in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers brought the veteran in to help Bell’s development and presumably ease his workload.
Blount regained his rookie form last season, averaging 5.0 yards per carry (YPC) and 2.7 yards after contact per carry. You can get a closer look at Blount’s renaissance in a tape study written not too long ago by yours truly.
Bell, meanwhile, had a Trent Richardson-like rookie season. That is to say, he had nice fantasy numbers despite being rather inefficient. The big back averaged a pitiful 3.5 YPC and 2.1 yards after contact per attempt, both near the bottom of the league. He also had lackluster 33.7 elusive rating and 15.1 breakaway percentage.
Bell garnered 68 percent of his team’s carries at running back last season, a ratio that figures to decline if Blount stays healthy and shows last season wasn’t a fluke. If Blount performs well without marked improvement from Bell, we could even see a timeshare form in Pittsburgh. That situation seems unlikely, but so did Richardson’s exile from Cleveland.
There is certainly a wait-and-see aspect to this development — as with many free-agent signings — but it’s time to cool the jets on Bell as a top-flight fantasy back, for now.