Can we ever trust Le'Veon Bell as a fantasy RB1 again?

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The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals. Next up, the New York Jets.

Sam Darnold has shown flashes but finished as the 27th highest-scoring fantasy QB his first two years. Do you think there's still untapped upside to chase, or have we seen enough from him?

Liz: The flashes are evidence of Darnold’s untapped potential, but his situation is not one that figures to unlock his ceiling of possibility. The former Trojan will enter his third year in the league surrounded by the following: an injury prone slot receiver, an inconsistent speedster, an aging receiving back, an unreliable tight end, and a rookie. While there’s plenty of “maybe” in that group … there’s also very little “probably.” As such, Darnold figures to spend another season quietly envious of the systems built around/for Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson while simultaneously remaining outside of the top-twenty fantasy producers at the position.

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Dalton: He owns the record as the youngest Week 1 starter in NFL history and is younger than Joe Burrow, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, and Dwayne Haskins. Darnold has had to deal with playing through mono, a poor supporting cast, and Adam Gase as his coach to start his career. Gase remains in 2020, Robby Anderson left, but the additions of Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, LT Mekhi Becton, and the return of Chris Herndon do have the makings of decent weapons. Darnold was about a league-average QB (CPOE -0.8) over the final half of last season once he recovered from his illness, which is just fine given his age. There’s clearly untapped upside here, but Darnold has both Gase and an absolutely loaded quarterback group working against him.

Matt: I’m confident there is untapped potential in Sam Darnold. He has functional mobility, a gambler’s mindset, and clear arm talent. At the same time, it’s hard to feel certain this offensive ecosystem is the best one to tap that upside. The Jets put in the needed work to add playmaking potential to the receiver room with Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman. They also added a first-round left tackle to a broken line. And the 2020 versions of Le’Veon Bell and Chris Herndon are almost destined to be better than their 2019 renditions. Nevertheless, the confidence meter on Adam Gase is just about at zero and there are an awful lot of new pieces to gel here. I’m still a believer in Darnold but it might take another coaching staff for me to buy into him as a possible every-week fantasy option at quarterback.

Le’Veon Bell failed to live up to most expectations in 2019. What is the percentage chance he returns to his 2017 form this season?

Matt: Zero percent. For starters, running backs rarely turn the clock back in time once it starts ticking toward their decline. Even if Bell does look better this year and 2019 was mostly about his one-year absence, the improved form will still, at best, be 80 to 75 percent of his peak. And then it’s worth noting that nothing about the situation is as good as his Steelers data. The Jets’ offensive line is in the middle of a makeover, not loaded with studs. There are no Hall of Famers at outside receiver, just a rookie and journeyman veteran competing. Sam Darnold might be good this year, but he’s unlikely to be Ben-Roethlisberger-in-his-prime good. It’s just not going to happen.

Dalton: Less than 1%. Since 2017, he’s sat out a season, massively downgraded situations, and is coming off a year in which he got 3.2 YPC and ranked 44th out of 45 backs in rushing DVOA (and also graded very poorly as a receiver), with only the incomparable Peyton Barber below him. Bell no doubt had to deal with a poor offensive line that the Jets addressed during the offseason, but he has a coach who didn’t even want to sign him but does want to “lessen his load.”    

Bell was one of the most dynamic and fun backs to watch of his generation, but he’s also played 16 games and recorded double-digit TDs only once throughout his career. At least Bell’s ADP is cheaper this season, when he’s not coming off holding out and with a better situation at O-line and a healthy Darnold (Frank Gore is 37 years old), but Bell isn’t going to approach 2017 production at this stage of his career.

Liz: It’s 100% likely that Bell will be better than he was in 2019. But it is 0% likely he will be as productive as he was in 2017. Joe Douglas has worked hard to improve the Jets offensive line, reworking the unit via free agency and the draft. Still, how much can a unit improve in one year, especially given an abbreviated offseason?

At the close of 2019, NYJ’s run-blocking unit was ranked 31st in the league and came in dead last in open field success. In turn, Bell managed just a single breakaway run all season and averaged 3.0 YPC when facing base fronts (37.8%). So, yes, assuming the line gels even a little bit, Herndon makes his way to the field, and Mims proves worthy of the hype, then the improved protection — in tandem with a slight stretching of the field — figures to give Bell some running room. But Darnold isn’t good enough yet nor is the offense potent enough to create a situation for him to return to peak production.

Beyond Jamison Crowder, is there a sleeper among Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, or Chris Herndon who could lead the team in targets?

Dalton: I’m out on Mims, but both Perriman and Herndon are interesting. Perriman is 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, ran a 4.30 40 and also owns a Speed Score in the 99th percentile. He was extremely productive and won many leagues during the fantasy playoffs last year when given an opportunity in Tampa Bay, and he’ll be getting another chance in 2020 as New York’s starter outside. I’m also big on Herndon, who’s a playmaker waiting to break out now that last year’s lost season is behind him. I have Herndon as a top-15 TE on my board.

Liz: I’m super high on Mims. From his 90+ SPARQ score to his ability to win in contested situations, the potential for greatness is there. BUT when I think about the rookie learning curve and recall Darnold’s rapport with Herndon at the close of the 2018 season, I can’t help but feel myself warming to the idea of a post-hype breakout for the former Hurricane.

[2020 Draft Rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]

Gase has a penchant for featuring the position (remember Ryan Griffin’s 5 TD season from last year?) and current reports indicate that Herndon will be a prominent part of the 2020 Jets’ offense. Assuming he stays out of trouble and on top of his conditioning, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him draw upwards of 65 looks. 

Matt: Not one that I’ll be actively targeting. Crowder will be the odds on favorite to lead the team in targets and it would probably take an injury for this not to happen. Darnold clearly had eyes for Crowder last season, as he locked into him quickly on short patterns both as a design in the offense and when he needed to get rid of the ball in a hurry. Perriman and Mims would be interesting if camps opened up and they could build chemistry with their new quarterback. While I was avoiding Herndon last year in drafts, he’s interesting this year at a discount. Again, these players will be on my “Sure, why not” list in the late rounds and not my “Priority target” one.

New York Jets projected 2020 lineup
New York Jets projected 2020 lineup


Matt: This is a tough team to come up with a true “hot take” for. At least, it’s hard to find one you might actually believe with any sort of confidence. I’ll take Chris Herndon finishing as a top-15 tight end this year. Herndon shined as a rookie but 2019 went about as poorly as possible amid suspensions and injuries. However, there’s still a clear path to targets for him and he only needs to usurp Ryan Griffin at the position. It also helps that Herndon has more familiarity with Darnold than either of Perriman or Mims, who will be competing for targets after Crowder. That is going to matter a lot in the truncated nature of this offseason. This isn’t a strong take, nor does it feel all that hot. Let’s just keep it moving.

OVER/UNDER on 6.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Dalton: Fade Gase and get juice? Sign me up. It’s not exactly ideal when your team’s strengths are at linebacker and safety, and while I expect Darnold to undergo real growth this season, this is a team that scored an NFL-low 25 touchdowns on offense last season, so they have a long way to go and are facing the third-toughest schedule when it comes to Vegas’ forecasted win totals. The Jets’ real turnaround is likely a year away and with a new regime.   

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

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