I know, I know, you hear the names and your body starts to cringe as a nauseating sensation stirs about in your stomach, but let this article serve as the Pepto Bismol to your body’s natural reaction.
Neither back is highly sought after or thought of in good favor. Leonard Fournette was rumored in trade talks and denied his fifth-year contract. Le’Veon Bell also rumored in trade talks and averaged an abysmal 3.2 yards per carry (YPC) in his debut season with the Jets. Now let me tell you why both could be values at their current draft position (ADP).
After coming off of his best statistical season, Fournette is not getting much shine from his own team or the fantasy community. Granted his 4.3 YPC is a little deceiving because of an outlier week 4 performance where he averaged 7.8 YPC. If you lower that average to his second-highest outing, his YPC drops to a more modest 4.1 YPC, which is still his highest season and more in line with his NFL career.
He’s had a 265-carry pace all 3 years in the NFL and will likely do so again this season with no real carry threat behind him in the backfield. You can book Fournette for at least 1,000 yards again this season, his biggest obstacle is the addition of Chris Thompson as a third-down receiving back. Fournette had an outlying 100 targets last season and the addition of Thompson showed that the Jaguars were not impressed with his 6.9 yards per reception (YPR). It’s likely Fournette drops closer to 50 targets and only 40 receptions compared to last year’s 100 targets and 76 receptions.
All that being said, the workhorse back has two things going for him that should safely secure his fall back into the top 12 RBs. Fournette played in all 15 games, but only scored 3 TDs, that is a freakishly bad outlier. The TD depraved Jaguar will likely triple his rushing scores, putting up at least 9 TDs in 2020.
Lastly, schedule is king when it comes to weekly projections. It’s hard to envision Fournette struggling against one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. There is a 6-week stretch where Fournette faces some of the league’s worst rushing defenses: Dolphins, Bengals, Texans, Lions, Chargers, and Texans again. He’s not a sexy new workhorse, but the schedule polishes out the nicks of this old beater back.
PPR proj: 266 carries, 1064 yards, 4 YPC, 1 fumble, 44 recs, 52 targets, 370 Rec yards, 9 total TDs: 239.4
Often referred to as the king of patient running, Bell will feel right at home dropping in ADP patiently waiting to be drafted on fantasy teams. But there is value in his perceived decline. We can capitalize on a rebound season after his forgettable Jets debut.
After rushing for his lowest YPC and rushing attempts, Adam Gase has already come out and said Bell will receive a smaller workload to increase his efficiency. Even if Bell has lost a step, the Jets completely revamped their atrocious offensive line from last year and added a first-round talent in Mekhi Becton. If Sam Darnold avoids mono and ghosts, he will make this offense a competent one. Bell can reasonably raise his YPC to a modest 3.8 YPC on 225 carries, 15 carries for 15 games. Gase may want to lower Bell’s workload but Bell’s heavily invested contract incentivizes him not to waste his services either.
The addition of Denzel Mims and a healthy Chris Herndon clouds Bell’s receiving role, but Bell has paced for 64 receptions in every season except his rookie year. You can likely book him again for at least another 64 receptions next year, he paced for 68 the back half of the year after Darnold returned. The additional offensive weapons are not a hindrance to Bell’s value but rather enable the offense to run at a league average. The Jets finished dead last at 14.5 points per game and Darnold had the 25th fewest passing attempts.
According to Adam Aizer of CBS Fantasy Football, over the last 5 years, any running back that’s had 64 or more catches and 67 or more carries, finished as a top 12 PPR back. Aizer brought up the stat because Bell was the first not to finish as a top 12 back last year, he finished as top 15 (week 16 finish); an increase in YPC and regression of increased TDs would likely boost Bell up closer to top 12, but I do have him finishing outside the top 12 again next year.
Bell scored his fewest rushing TDs of his career last season, only 3 rushing TDs. Now that the Jets possess a competent offense, Bell should easily double his TD total to 6, even with the threat of Frank Gore stealing goal line touches. Bell will still get on the field in the red zone because he possesses a pass-catching versatility that keeps the defense guessing, which Gore does not.
And as always, schedule is king. Bell starts off with a bumpy beginning, facing the Bills, 49ers, Colts, and Broncos, but the schedule lightens after that. After week 4, Bell faces the Cardinals, Chargers, Chiefs, Dolphins twice, and Raiders. Even if you aren’t comfortable enough to draft Bell, he can be a buy low trade target at the beginning of the season.
PPR proj: 218 carries, 828 yards, 3.8 YPC, 1 fumble, 64 recs, 72 targets, 461 Rec yards, 6 total TDs: 226.9
I’ve seen both running backs make it to the back of the 4th round and even start of the 5th, at those ADPs I believe both backs will provide a sneaky good return on investment even if they are the misfit backs no one wanted.