Le’Veon Bell’s pending four-game suspension has thrown a wrench into both the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl aspirations and the draft strategies of many fantasy football players. With a quarter of his season hanging in the balance, Bell’s gone from a potential first overall pick to one who’s often sliding out of the first round in Fantasy Football Calculator (FFC) mock drafts.
But Bell’s certainly not the only Steeler who’s seen a shift in his fantasy value. His running mate, DeAngelo Williams, has seen a sizable jump up draft boards since word on Bell came out. Williams is currently going near the end of the fifth round in FFC mocks, on average. He’s typically about the 25th running back selected.
Williams jump up draft boards admittedly makes sense. The former Carolina Panther saw more work than anyone expected in relief of Bell last season and made the most of the opportunity. Williams totaled 1,274 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns last season – proving to be among the league’s best fantasy backs.
Strong production and a quarter-season worth of starts in an explosive offense explains why Williams is being drafted where he is. Still, that doesn’t make it the right move. As the 25th back off the board, Williams is being selected in a spot where many owners grab their third or even second running back.
That sort of draft positioning is typically reserved for players expected to start, or at least see a big chunk of work, all season long. Williams doesn’t fit that bill.
In the six games Bell started last year, Williams saw just 22 carries. He gained 106 yards on those carries, but 55 of them came on one big gain. As a rotational player, Williams simply doesn’t get the run to be considered a fantasy factor.
Now, some might be drafting Williams under the assumption that, whenever Bell’s available, the two will share the workload. Bell, after all, is coming off a pretty serious leg injury. But there’s no evidence to suggest Pittsburgh has designs on a committee approach. Over the past decade, the team’s had no problem letting it’s run game go through one back – be it Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall or Bell – exclusively.
If Williams weren’t backing up a stud back, he’d likely be going even higher. But that’s not to say he doesn’t come with some risks of his own. The veteran heads into his age-33 season coming off a foot injury that cost him both of Pittsburgh’s playoff games. He also has an injury history of his own that makes him a shaky proposition as a full-time starter.
Ironically, injury’s part of what’s driving Williams’ value. As noted, Bell’s returning from a torn MCL and PCL, the sort of major injury that’s derailed careers in the past. But, as seen with the likes of Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, medical advancements have strengthened the odds that great players can return to form.
That’s not to say that Bell’s out of the woods yet. But banking on the 24-year-old to struggle or get hurt again so that Williams becomes a season-long starter seems like a foolish investment.
For fantasy owners, it’s a bit of a bummer that Bell and Williams are part of one backfield. As seen last season, both have the potential to be top-10 fantasy backs. But there’s only one football and, whenever he’s in the lineup, it belongs to Bell.
If Bell’s suspension holds up, Williams will provide great returns for his drafters over the season’s first four games. But a typical fantasy season spans most of the NFL’s regular season. Which is why less sexy options, like Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah and Giovani Bernard, who will see consistent touches on a weekly basis should be your choice over Williams.