Stock Watch: What to do if you drafted Le'Veon Bell

Eric Karabell
ESPN PLUS


James Conner seems likely to start at running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday in Cleveland because Le'Veon Bell likely will not. That, my fantasy friends, is all we really know for sure on the day that the 2018 regular season begins with the Super Bowl champions hosting a party in Philadelphia. Pretending we know more that that and making actionable moves with consequences because of those assumptions is likely vast overreaction. As we tackle our first in-season Stock Watch, it might not be the majority opinion to note this, but little has changed for me when it comes to either Bell or Conner.

What Bell wants and what the Steelers want to give him financially are apparently not quite matching up. Frankly, I am not terribly interested in the particulars, only the end result. However, because of the turmoil, the other Steelers running backs -- and mainly Conner -- are starting to look better than they should to fantasy managers. Bell investors are concerned, scared, hysterically panicking -- pick your descriptor -- and starting to think about making some silly decisions.

I am a patient man and will not be doing anything silly, I am quite certain, because we need to see how this plays out. My gut tells me all will be well. Bell will soon suit up, his teammates will hug him and act like all is forgiven. For home games, where the Steelers play better, fantasy managers will rejoice. Sure, as the hours before Sunday's opener shrink and Bell looks like he will not be anywhere near Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium, the reality that he does not play becomes quite fathomable. However, these things tend to sort themselves out quickly.

Perhaps Bell misses Week 1. No big deal. Perhaps he misses two games. We have been there at that stage with him before, you know, albeit under different circumstances. Similarly, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is missing a game or two and Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will as well. You know what, the reasons are only somewhat relevant, whether it's a contract issue, an injury or a suspension. If I drafted Wentz or Edelman, I surely haven't already traded them for 50 cents on the dollar before their team'sfirst games. Why do so with Bell?

The actionable move to make here is to find a bench spot for Conner, if you have one open, on the chance he becomes a star for more than just a week or so. Some of you might not have room. After all, we just drafted these fantasy teams of ours and, presumably, we chose the flex-eligible players in the latter rounds for a reason. Is this Bell situation enough to alter those choices we made? To most of us, it makes sense to add Conner just in case. That said, parting ways with a potential top-20 running back or wide receiver to do so makes no sense to me because I still think Bell is going to be a top fantasy asset this season.

By the way, all of this is presuming Conner is the guy who ends up with Bell's touches. Even that, my friends, is far from clear, as Jaylen Samuels -- versatile, fast, and a trained receiver as well -- should have a role. I liked Conner coming out of college and wanted him to land anywhere other than Pittsburgh, where playing time would be a problem. However, for fantasy managers to add Conner and expect anything more than a last-second gut call to activate him for Week 1 seems very premature.

This is only Week 1! Nearly everyone is healthy. Nobody is on a bye. Did you really draft a team that needs unproven James Conner to start in Week 1? This seems like overthinking to me. Perhaps he plays great but he most assuredly is not Bell. That's why I often decry the practice of handcuffing players. I cannot see making Conner even a clear RB2 at this point, though he is, for me, an intriguing flex choice.

I know it's so tough for fantasy managers to adhere to any advice that recommends they exercise the least bit of patience, but there is almost no clarity in this situation. Bell could still play on Sunday. Or next Sunday. Or, I suppose, he might not play until the first Sunday in November. That, too, is possible, but I doubt it. This situation will get settled and I think Conner, likely the most added player in ESPN standard leagues heading into Week 1, is going to be on the other side of that ledger in a matter of weeks -- just like last season, you know.

It seems hard to believe Bell is going to sit for months but, if he is the centerpiece of your fantasy team, you do not trade him unless the return is someone regarded as a reasonable replacement to start with. Bell leads the top tier of running backs for me, but certainly with the added risk I would trade him for Todd Gurley II, David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott, and probably, depending on the construction of my team, his teammate Antonio Brown. OK, so anyone in the first round, I can see it. When it gets down to Christian McCaffrey territory, though, I say no. Anyway, who is going to do any trade like that not knowing how this state of affairs will end?

Just keep this fantastic fantasy asset and remember that he also held out last season, delivered a statistical dud in Week 1 -- also at Cleveland -- and still ended up as fantasy's No. 3 scorer, behind only Gurley and Russell Wilson. He stunk for the first week, sat out Week 17 and still only two players ended up outscoring him. Keep Bell. Add Conner if you have someone to cut but do not view him as Bell-like. In fact, trading Conner away while you can makes more sense, because his value will likely never be higher.

In summary, this is all going to work out and Bell will be awesome.

Stock up

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: He still scares me because it's not as if he was throwing 50-yard missiles to T.Y. Hilton in the preseason. So many Luck passes were short, quick flips to whomever was open before the awful Colts offensive line permitted the oncoming large men to obliterate the quarterback who missed all of last season. We do not know for sure that Luck's shoulder is fine, but at least he will play more games this season than last. That's a start. I ranked him as the No. 11 QB for this week.

LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: Well, he avoided a suspension for off-the-field stuff. One month ago, I wasn't sure that would be the case. Ignore him if you think the Bills are awful, but the volume will be there -- and that really might be enough. Do you care if he shows signs of age if the numbers are still there? I don't. Fantasy's No. 7 running back from 2017 did not suddenly get too old to do it again, so I ranked him as one of the top RB2 options this week -- and I will continue to do so.

Mike Gillislee, RB, New Orleans Saints: Yes, while you may not have been paying attention, the former Dolphin, Bill and Patriot signed with New Orleans, making my deep sleeper pick of Boston Scott look silly. Gillislee is no Mark Ingram, so don't assume he'll handle a similar role in September while Ingram serves his suspension. Still, there could absolutely be flex value here for this prolific offense, even with Alvin Kamara dominating.

Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos: He won the starting role we all thought he had essentially earned the day he was drafted. OK, so perhaps he is not Saquon Barkley, but he is a better value and, by the way, draft status means nothing now. These are your players and when you drafted them or for how much is irrelevant. Freeman is a top RB2 for me with upside.

Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins: I think Stills is underrated and was unceremoniously forgotten in drafts, but DeVante Parker is out this week. Ryan Tannehill might not be Dan Marino, but he is better than what they had last year. Stills could quickly emerge as a WR3. By the way, rookie tight end Mike Gesicki really does look like a potential difference-maker right away. Optimistic Jordan Reed managers will be swapping their injured tight end for the Penn State product in a matter of weeks.

Antonio Gates, TE, Los Angeles Chargers: Now 38, we cannot expect the future Hall of Famer to perform the way he did a few seasons ago, but there is ample opportunity for goal-line looks and touchdowns with Hunter Henry missing. Virgil Green is more of a blocking option. Give Gates a few weeks to get going, as he just re-signed this week, but he could once again be a top-10 tight end soon.

Stock down

Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins: Here we have Miami's presumed starter at running back, now apparently sharing touches with the sport's active leader in rushing yards. Perhaps by the second quarter on Week 1, we'll see that Frank Gore is not a factor, and Drake is a clear fantasy RB2, but I don't feel so confident in this anymore.

Alfred Morris, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Somewhat similarly, Morris seemed to be everyone's choice to handle the early-down work for the 49ers after the unfortunate Jerick McKinnon injury, but now it is apparently Matt Breida in charge. Or not. Even the spectre of a timeshare drops Morris' value and, unlike Drake, he won't be catching passes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston is suspended and supposedly not even promised the starting job when he returns -- though it seems likely Ryan Fitzpatrick will gift-wrap it for him. Still, Mike Evans investors are worried, especially when reminded how Evans did nothing in two games with Week 1's opponent (New Orleans) last season. Hot-shot rookie RB Ronald Jones was so bad at blocking and catching passes this summer that Peyton Barber not only leapfrogged him on the depth chart, but so did Jacquizz Rodgers. TE Cameron Brate, the No. 10 PPR TE in 2017, seems destined to share time with O.J. Howard. This team is a fantasy mess.

Oakland Raiders: Perhaps the new coach knows exactly what he is doing, and far be it for anyone to question that, but this is the oldest team in the sport by quite a large margin and, after the odd and desperate Khalil Mack trade, this sure looks like a bad team. Perhaps Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch will be statistically fine, but I avoided players from this team in fantasy and think the Mack trade makes the other AFC West quarterbacks -- Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes and even Case Keenum -- all look better.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Missing a game or two to start the season is not a big deal, but I get the feeling Jeffery's shoulder recovery will affect his performance on the field for a lot longer than that.

Stock unchanged

Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: The only thing that changed here is you need another quarterback for Week 1 -- and I believe for Week 2 as well, because Nick Foles is starting until Wentz is medically cleared. That's all. Wentz can still perform like an MVP when he gets back in the huddle.

Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns: He might not start against the Steelers, but so what? He also barely practiced this summer. Gordon can still be a special fantasy contributor, and his status over the course of a four-month NFL season remains very enticing, no matter what happens this coming Sunday.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Buffalo Bills: People are worried about him because Nathan Peterman is the Week 1 starting quarterback. OK, so if you felt confident in Benjamin when untested rookie Josh Allen or, for that matter, untested veteran AJ McCarron (now with Oakland) might get the call, what's new now? Come on. Benjamin is worth rostering in all formats, regardless of the Buffalo quarterback.