Fantasy Debate: Le'Veon Bell vs. Montee Ball
The illustrious Mr. Jake Ciely has already outline the risk involved with drafting fantasy rookies, but since we’re fresh off the NFL draft, I figured I’d bang my head against the proverbial wall, and see if I could manage to find some fantasy value in this year’s rookie class. While last year’s rookie running back class provided owners with fantasy monsters like Doug Martin and Trent Richardson, this year’s class doesn’t seem to offer quite as much value at first glance.
Giovani Bernard was the first running back off the board, and Eddie Lacy is generally viewed as the 2013 NFL Draft’s best rookie running back, but there are a pair of former Big Ten (or whatever that conference is calling themselves these days) RBs that I believe could end up providing the most fantasy value among rookie running backs in 2013.
During the 2012 college football season, Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) and Montee Ball (Wisconsin) finished first and third, respectively, in rushing attempts and fifth and third, respectively, in rushing yards. While those types of rushing attempt numbers are usually a red flag when it comes to college running backs (what’s up, Ron Dayne?), the Steelers and Broncos had no problem with adding Bell and Ball to their running back stable during the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Bernard may been the highest running back selected, and Lacy may end up being the most talented of the bunch. However, Bell and Ball both enter more advantageous situations fantasy wise, and it will be interesting to see which one ends up having the better rookie season.
Montee Ball will suffer from the inevitable Ron Dayne comparisons (I know, I’m a jerk) as a between-the-tackles power back from Wisconsin, but he’ll enter a backfield in Denver that is ripe for the taking. Willis McGahee should be renting and not buying in the Denver area, and Ronnie Hillman doesn’t have the size to be a feature back, so Ball should have every opportunity to become Peyton Manning’s first and second down back, at the very least.
Ball does have his deficiencies (finishing 98th in the nation with 5.1 yards per carry will help illustrate his lack of top-end spend), but he also finish sixth in the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns and the aforementioned third in rushing yards with 1,830. A tough between-the-tackles runner, Ball will give the Broncos a workhorse who can carry the load between the 20’s and also serve as a viable goal-line threat, who can punch one in when needed. If Ball impresses in training camp, he could push Hillman to a third-down role and McGahee to the scrap heap, so there’s a very good chance Ball provides upside as a low-end RB2 fantasy running back in 2013.
Any fantasy owner who watched Michigan State’s opener against Boise State last season has probably had Le’Veon Bell on their radar for the last nine months. Following up his 44 carry, 210 yard performance against the blue-turfed Broncos, Bell went on to lead the nation with 382 carries and finished fifth among running backs with 1,793 rushing yards. Bell is a more versatile back than Ball in that he has a bit more explosiveness, is a bit better at catching the ball out of the backfield and should be able to factor into the Steelers’ rushing attack early and often.
Like Montee Ball, Bell will enter a somewhat crowded backfield that is also rife with opportunity. Rashard Mendenhall moved onto greener (sandier?) pastures in Arizona and all that remains in Pittsburgh are solid but not spectacular players like Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Dwyer showed flashes last season, but he lacks Bell’s upside and looks to have an uphill battle to win the starting job from Bell. The Steelers are committed to re-instating their physical rushing attack of years past, and if Bell wins the starting job in Pittsburgh, he could join Montee Ball in providing fantasy owners with a low-end RB2 option in 2013.
Who will be the more valuable fantasy running back of these two Big Ten alums? The answer will most likely depend on whether or not each wins a starting job, but the talent and opportunity are there for both Montee Ball and Le’Veon Bell. Assuming each enters the season as his team’s lead back, I would currently draft Bell over Ball for 2013. The main reason for that is that I believe Bell is the more talented back, but I also don’t want to discount the fact that Ball joins an offense that features Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, while Bell joins an offense that features Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Plaxico Burress. I’m not knocking the Steelers’ passing attack, but I think even folks who own a Terrible Towel will agree that Pittsburgh will have to rely on their rushing attack more than the Broncos will.