Every year fantasy pundits throw blows over who they like/dislike in drafts. Yahoo’s cast of characters is no different. Throughout the picking season, we’ll provide two sides to the story to help you decide between Player A or Player B. Read. React. And choose a winner.
Today’s showdown: Steelers switcheroo — Le’Veon Bell (10.0 ADP, RB6) vs. James Conner (13.5, RB7).
Evans: Le’Veon Bell is ready to carry the load
Through the album release parties, packed-on poundage, jet ski rides and other off-the-field headlines, Bell’s 2018 hiatus from football should be viewed as a positive. The time off likely preserved his overworked body, which had endured 1,541 total touches the previous five seasons with Pittsburgh. Those who believe the former fantasy king has a wrapped leg in the sarcophagus are misinformed. At 27 years old, he’s hardly mummified. Scrapping with the rusher in scrimmages and practice this summer, Jets teammates Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Copeland describe Bell as “game-ready,” a player who’s “clearly picked up where he left off.” In his career, he’s racked over 60 percent of his yards after initial contact, forcing a missed tackle 16.3% of the time.
Refreshed, refocused, and trimmed down, Bell will shine again for those who draft him. There’s little doubt about his projected volume. Though signs indicate he’ll concede some touches to Ty Montgomery as he’s eased in Weeks 1-2, the all-world workhorse should sail past 325 touches, many coming in the pass game. All he has to do is average 5.0 yards per touch to surpass 1,600 total yards, which, health permitting, will be a cinch (career 5.2 yds/touch). The offensive line isn’t absolved of concern, but with Sam Darnold looking poised to take a major leap in Year 2, it’s entirely plausible Bell finishes not only handsomely in yards, but contributes 9-12 touchdowns. The Jets do feature the fourth-easiest rush offense schedule according to Sharp Football. Blend it and it’s why he’s my RB6 in .5 PPR. If you’re pigeonholed into a mid-round draft slot, he’s a spectacular investment.
Conner is also worth consideration in Round 1, but Jaylen Samuels and others are expected to siphon touches. Volume is king in fantasy and Bell is the Mufasa of RBs. Expect him to roar, and loudly. - Brad Evans
Pianow: James Conner has floor with upside
I like to skew my rosters towards younger players with experience, and Conner checks that box. He’s three years younger than Bell and has 1,239 fewer touches. Low mileage is good. And Conner showed his upside last year, checking in as the RB7 despite missing three games.
We obviously want our running backs tied to good offenses and winning situations, and that’s another win for Conner. Maybe the Jets offense will be serviceable with Sam Darnold, but we already know Ben Roethlisberger is good. The Steelers are projected to win nine games, the Jets 7.5. That’s not a mandate from the heavens, but this stuff matters.
The spring coachspeak about Pittsburgh’s widening backfield seems like a red herring now. Conner was a first-unit staple in the preseason, getting 85% of the starting-team reps. Jaylen Samuels is a talented understudy and will have some role, but it’s likely a secondary one. And rookie Benny Snell Jr. is just a guy; doesn’t look like a significant threat. Thank Mike Tomlin — he’s kept the Conner price down for much of the summer. The Steelers usually rely on one primary runner, and I’m confident that’s not going to change.
Conner’s usage and surroundings should ensure the floor, but I’m also tickled about the upside. He’s come into camp in the best shape of his life, and while that narrative is often mocked, sometimes it does turn out to be significant. Remember when Bell took a significant leap in 2014, his second season? It’s because he finally got serious about his NFL body and lost a ton of weight.
Brad outlined a reasonable frame for why Bell could be a good pick. But if you’re faced with this fork in the road, Conner is the right pick. You could conceivably draft Conner in the middle of the first round in some leagues. Come ride shotgun with me. - Scott Pianowski