By nearly every measure, New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell had a disappointing 2019. But now behind a revamped offensive line and with head coach Adam Gase praising his offseason workouts, the All-Pro running back could be primed for a bounce back year. One, that could make him the best running back in New York.
Frankie Taddeo, Sports Illustrated’s fantasy and gambling analyst, believes that Bell is a better running back than the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley, who is considered one of the best backfield stars in the NFL.
"Le'Veon Bell is the best football player in New York who dons the No. 26 jersey. If Bell was the starting running back in Kansas City, Tampa Bay or Baltimore he would be in discussion among the top five in fantasy football,” Taddeo said this week.
“However, he is limited because Adam Gase is the Jets head coach. Bell was considered elite only a few years ago but now he outside the top 10 in the league? I don’t buy it. Bell has been a model teammate on and off the field since he arrived in New York. Barkley is a great talent, but he is being put in a better position to succeed due to the Giants scheme. Bell is a top five back in this league still, however as we know not one star player outside of Peyton Manning has thrived under Gase. Bell is the best running back playing in New York.”
Last year, his first in New York since signing as a free agent, saw Bell put up historically low numbers. Three times a Pro Bowl selection and twice an All-Pro, Bell had a career-low 3.2 yards per carry (in his previous five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers he averaged 4.3 yards per carry). To Taddeo’s point, part of it is utilization as Bell had just 16.3 rushing attempts per game (also a career low), down from his average while with the Steelers (198 attempts).
“Think about where Bell would be drafted if he was traded today to KC or Tampa. His stock would be through the roof,” Taddeo said. “The talent is still there, unfortunately the scheme and the coach needed to thrive are not."
Barkley, set to enter his third year in the NFL, is often talked about as one of the biggest offensive stars in the NFL. In 2018, he set the NFL’s all-purpose yardage mark for a rookie.
Now the hope for the Jets is that general manager Joe Douglas’ work revamping the offensive line will pay dividends. Come Week 1, the Jets could feature five new starters along the offensive from a year ago, a unit that was considered one of the weakest in the NFL.
If the offensive line can be even average in terms of their run blocking (which would be a significant step forward), then Bell could bounce back. And while a return to the type of numbers he posted in Pittsburgh when he was routinely one of the top gainers on the ground in the NFL, this season could be a step forward or two for the Jets rushing offense and Bell in particular.