Underrated Game-Breaker: Joique Bell
Have I mentioned somewhere that I think the NFC North could be the most productive division in terms of offensive skill players? Well, the Lions play in that division and their back-up running back – “secondary” or “complementary” back might be the more appropriate description – is in a great spot to reward fantasy owners in a big way.
Bell will turn 28 in August and is entering his third season in this pass-happy Lions offense. He’s caught 105 balls over the last two seasons (for what it’s worth, the often described as “dynamic” C.J. Spiller has caught 115 passes in his last three seasons), a skill set that is rare from a goal-line vulture that is more than capable of producing solid fantasy numbers in the running game (he scored on half of his carries inside the opponents 10-yard line last year).
Detroit seems happy to use Reggie Bush in a Darren Sproles-esque role, something that should have Bell soaring up fantasy draft boards. Matthew Stafford targeted Bush 80 times in 14 games, a tremendous increase from the receiving workload he saw in Miami (104 targets in 31 games). If that’s the case, what is to stop Detroit from limiting Bush’s rushing attempts in an effort to keep him healthy as a weapon in the open field?
Further building on the Saints comparison, why can’t Bell be 2013 Pierre Thomas, but without a Mark Ingram involved? Filling the role of the younger running back that is a capable pass-catcher and arguably the better between the tackles running back. He actually averages 28.9 percent more yards per catch for his career than Bush does, making him a potential game-breaker through the air more than you might assume.
Bell’s advanced metrics in the passing game were even more impressive: He ranked fourth among all running backs in yards per pass route run, behind only Sproles, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead. His name in the same breath as those playmakers is that much more impressive when you consider that he had more rushing yards last year than any two of those three running backs combined for.
Dig deeper and you’ll find that the Lions are gradually relying on Bell more and more. He had just one fewer touch last year in games that were close (plus-or-minus seven points) in the fourth quarter than Bush. You heard me. With the game on the line, Detroit was just as likely to call Bell’s number as Bush’s.
Part of the rationale behind that is Bell’s ability to thrive in short yardage situations, as he averaged 3.7 yards on “clear” running downs (third or fourth down with fewer than three yards to go). If that stat doesn’t calm your nerves about a potentially inconsistent week-to-week season from Bell, this one should: He was on the field for three fewer snaps per game last season than the “workhorse” that is Alfred Morris.
I’ll say it again: opportunity drives fantasy value, and with Reggie Bush pushing 30 years of age, it isn’t difficult to imagine Bell’s workload spiking in a major way.
Other Underrated Game-Breakers: