Can Fantasy owners and the Pittsburgh Steelers depend on Le’Veon Bell?

For many fantasy owners, Le’Veon Bell is a no doubt first round pick. For the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans, Le’Veon Bell is one of the big 3 that gives the Steelers a chance to win it all. The only thing to burst everyone’s bubble is that Bell is trending toward the infamous tag of being “injury prone”; but is he really injury prone?

Let me start off by saying that I am generally biased against depending on a running back as the center piece of a fantasy team or a real life team. I believe the running back position to not only be the most injury prone position in football but probably the most injury prone position in all of sports. Featured running backs absorb more trauma and overuse to their bodies than any other athlete I can think of. When Le’Veon Bell is healthy, he plays more snaps than any back in the league and therefore his injury risk may pose one of the highest floors in the league based on position and playing time expectations.

Fortunately for Bell, his injury risk floor is complemented by a production ceiling that is clearly top 3 in the league. The combination of the Pittsburgh offense and his skill set to run or catch the ball on almost every down can only be sniffed by David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals (assuming he takes on a feature back role this year).

When I studied Le’Veon Bells injury history, it gave me little concern about lingering or long-term effects. I am not concerned about the fact that both of his recent injuries were to his left knee area, as the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) injury that he suffered this past season is not one that I expect to linger into next season. The MCL is an important ligament for running backs as the nature of the position requires repetitive cutting and change of direction. Bell’s left MCL will be put to work when he makes cuts to his right or when he takes blows to the inside of that left knee, but by the time he hits the field he will have at about 9 months of healing time, which is more than enough. I expect Bell to be 100% when the season starts, but we know that it is not how he starts but if he can finish that matters most.

The factor that should concern fantasy owners and the Pittsburgh Steelers is his weight. If Le’Veon Bell comes in to the season at the proper weight, I think he is the no brainer number one pick in fantasy and likely keeps the crown as the most productive running back in the league. However, his history with weight worries me some. Bell entered the league at a whopping 244 lbs and reported last year that he came down to about 225 lbs. Some may prefer a big back and feel comfort in them taking hits better than smaller backs, but I do not. I believe the ideal weight for a running back to be 215 – 220 lbs and I am all in on Bell if he is in that weight range. Weight is an important factor to me for a few reasons. Joints are only meant to load a certain amount of weight, and although these football players are typically mostly muscle; weight is weight. When you hear of these highly trained athletes having joint injuries or even heart attacks, but you considered them to be big, strong, healthy guys; it is because our hearts, our joints, and our frames are only designed to carry a certain amount. Also, Newton taught us that force = mass x acceleration. In the case of Le’Veon Bell, his extra weight is likely to mean more force during collisions with other players and more force for his body parts as they contact the ground. Greater force equals greater injury risk.

The workload issue is so tricky when it comes to fantasy as we all salivate over a back like this because of his ceiling, but keep in mind that running backs drop off a cliff when they are 30 for a reason. The same rationale is in play during the season. There is a point where carrying and catching the ball on every play becomes somewhat of a detriment to the player and spikes their injury risk. While I don’t have an exact number of carries and catches that sets off an alarm; the combination of an overweight Le’Veon Bell and rumbling in Pittsburgh that he will be featured in an even greater capacity is not all good.

If you plan to invest in Le’Veon Bell this year, keeping a close eye on his weight should be your first priority. Hopefully we hear he went vegan or started Yoga and Pilates rather than bulking up in the weight room. Anything that sounds like this and I am in. On the other hand if he falls back in to rookie year Le’Veon and tips the scales in the 240’s, it would be wise to fade him and maybe look at a back like David Johnson.

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