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Is Le’Veon Bell too injury prone to be your first pick?

by Eric Petty
Jun 15, 2016


Le’Veon Bell hurt fantasy owners last season. Will it happen again?

For many fantasy owners, Le’Veon Bell is a no doubt first round pick. On the other hand, some will hesitate with whispers of Bell getting the tag of being “injury prone”. Which is the right side to be on as the NFL season approaches?

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Let me start off by saying that I am generally biased against taking a running back first. 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. Running backs are likely to absorb the most trauma and overuse to their bodies as compared to any other athlete I can think of. Furthermore, when backs like Le’Veon Bell are healthy and featured in the offense; I believe the floor for injury risk is higher than any other player on the field.

Despite the injury risk floor, a back like Le’Veon Bell has a production ceiling that is clearly top 3 in the league for all positions. The combination of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense and his skill set to run or catch the ball on almost every down can only be sniffed by maybe David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals. For this reason, he trumps my running back rule and at least needs to be considered.

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, as the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) injury that he suffered is not one that I expect to linger into this 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 does give me some concern 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. 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 absorbing hits better than smaller backs, but I generally disagree. 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 of weight. Also, Newton taught us that force = mass x acceleration. In the case of Le’Veon Bell, his extra weight is likely to mean increased force during collisions with other players and increased force for his body parts as they contact the ground. In most cases, greater force equals greater injury risk.

Lastly, the workload issue here is tricky when it comes to fantasy sports 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 rumblings in Pittsburgh that he will be featured in an even greater capacity may not be an all good scenario for fantasy owners.

I know this is a different approach as compared to studying productivity trends and what offenses have in store for the upcoming season. Injury Science looks at these decisions from a slightly different angle than the traditional fantasy football decision making, but trust me; 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 into 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.

Dr. Eric Petty is a Physical Therapist who is taking his talents from the treatment room to help fantasy owners. You can find more of his work at his site, The Injury Report Doctor, and you can follow him @DrPettyIRD.

Correspondent, Featured, Injuries, NFL