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WARNING SIGNS: Is Le’Veon Bell More Risk Than Reward?

Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Le’Veon Bell is one of the most electrifying talents at his position in the NFL today. After piling up 1,291 rushing yards and adding 85 catches on his way to a second-place fantasy finish among running backs in 2017, Bell’s also a highly sought-after commodity on draft day – so much so that he’s going first overall in a number of fantasy leagues.

However, for all his talents, there’s a dark side to taking Bell early in fantasy drafts in 2018. There are a couple of valid reasons to believe that Bell can just as easily destroy fantasy teams as lead them. That among the top-five picks this year (Bell, running backs Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson and Steelers wideout Antonio Brown) Bell easily has the best chance of blowing up in drafters’ faces.

Those reasons make drafting Bell a much dicier fantasy bet than most would lead you to believe.

CURSES…FOILED AGAIN!

When most people think of curses in football, they bring up the “Madden” curse – that misfortune awaits all those who appear on the cover of the popular video game.

Oh yeah – Tom Brady had a horrendous season a year ago. What with making it to the Super Bowl for the 37th time and winning the Most Valuable Player award — again.

It was a real tragedy.

When you mention curses in fantasy football, the first one that comes up is usually “The Curse of 370.” Long story short, if a running back goes over 370 carries in a given season, the following year is usually a mess. If you look at the historical data on that one, it actually has some teeth.

More than many know, actually.

As John Georgopoulos wrote here at Fantasy Sharks back in 2016, there’s another “Curse of 370” – this time for tailbacks who accrue more than 370 total touches in a season. It’s not quite as pronounced as the original, but if you take a look at the running backs who have surpassed that benchmark over the past decade something becomes readily apparent.

And that thing ain’t good.

RB WITH 370-PLUS TOUCHES 2007-2017

Player Year Touches Tot. Yards TYNY GMNY Drop Pct.
C. Portis 2007 372 1651 1705 0 +3.3
L. Tomlinson 2007 375 1949 1536 0 21.2
C. Portis 2008 370 1705 551 8 67.7
M. Turner 2008 383 1740 906 5 47.9
A. Peterson 2008 385 1882 1819 0 3.3
M. Forte 2008 379 1715 1400 0 18.4
C. Johnson 2009 408 2509 1609 0 35.9
S. Jackson 2009 375 1738 1624 0 6.6
R. Rice 2010 371 1779 2068 0 +16.2
A. Foster 2010 392 2218 1841 3 17.0
S. Jackson 2010 376 1624 1478 1 9.0
M. Jones-Drew 2011 386 1980 500 10 74.8
A. Peterson 2012 388 2314 1437 2 37.9
A. Foster 2012 391 1641 725 8 55.8
L. Bell 2014 373 2215 692 10 68.8
D. Murray 2014 450 2261 1024 1 54.8
D. Johnson 2016 373 2118 90 15 95.8
L. Bell 2017 406 1946 ??? ??? ???

Of the 17 tailbacks who exceeded 370 touches from 2007-2016, two (11.8 percent) increased their yardage production the following season. Three more saw a drop-off of less than 10 percent. Two more fell off by less than 20 percent.

That means that seven of 17 running backs (41.2 percent) either at least came relatively close to the prior season’s performance or surpassed it. About four in 10.

In baseball, four successes in 10 attempts is awesome. In fantasy football? Not so much.

Conversely, six of the 17 ball-carriers (35.3 percent) saw their yardage production fall by over 50 percent the next year. Four of those backs saw their numbers nose-dive by over 65 percent the year after amassing 370-plus touches. That includes David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals, who last year experienced the biggest drop-off of any back on this list after he suffered a season-ending wrist injury in Week 1.

There’s another theme among the backs who top 370 touches a season. The next year, they tend to get hurt. Ten of the 17 tailbacks (58.8 percent) listed here missed time the year after their 370-touch campaign and half of those backs missed at least half the following season.

On average, the 17 running backs who had over 370 touches in a season since 2007 (not including Bell in 2017) saw their yardage production decrease by 36.4 percent the following year. On average they also missed 3.7 games that next season.

Do those numbers sound like a sound return on your top-five investment? If they do, I have some oceanfront property near Yuma that I can let you have for a song.

That song. You’re welcome.

About Gary Davenport

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications. These publications include the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is a both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is a seven-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who was named the organization's Fantasy Football Writer of the Year for 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. Gary was one of the co-founders of, and Head Writer at, Fantasy Football Oasis before joining Fantasy Sharks as an IDP Senior Staff Writer in 2011. He knows football. Or so he's heard.