If you are lucky enough to have the first pick in your upcoming fantasy football draft, the good news is you’re going to get a stud. The bad news is, you have an insanely tough decision to make. In light of the Ezekiel Elliot drama, the two guys you need to decide between when making the top pick, are Le’veon Bell and David Johnson.
The Case for Bell:
Based on just talent alone, Le’veon Bell is the best running back in the league. While David Johnson is not far off at all, gun to my head, Bell is the head honcho. His running style is unlike any we’ve ever seen, displaying a ridiculous amount of patience at the line of scrimmage, while his ability to create yards is unmatched. You can see my in-depth breakdown of Bell’s game here.
The Steelers offense is superior to the Cardinals, which indicates Bell should spend more time in the red-zone than Johnson. Also working in Bell’s favor is the Steelers superb offensive line, which returns all five starters from 2016. That continuity is an extremely valuable asset for any running back, nevertheless the best in the game. In games he played in during the 2016 season, Bell was on the field for 93% of the Steelers offensive snaps, the most by any RB in the NFL. David Johnson, who was second in that category, appeared in 79% of snaps. Bell also averaged 28 touches a game, while Johnson averaged 24.
Bell is a workhorse in every sense of the word. If he had started all 16 games and maintained his per game averages, he would’ve eclipsed 2,500 yards from scrimmage, something only achieved by Chris Johnson in 2009. While there are plenty of mouths to feed in Pittsburgh, the offense goes as Bell goes. The team made a strong contract offer to Bell this summer, showing their commitment to the star RB. Although he declined the contract, Bell will enter the 2017 season with the highest RB salary in the league by a mile.
The Case for Johnson:
David Johnson’s 2016 season was just plain dominant. The Cardinals offense relied week after week on the second-year stud, giving him a massive 373 touches. Johnson showed he was more than capable of handling the load, turning those opportunities into 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns. His signature jump cut left defenders grasping at air, while his route-running is good enough to trick you into thinking he’s a receiver. His 33 touchdowns in his first two seasons is truly astonishing, considering he only started five games as a rookie.
Working in Johnson’s favor this year is a very favorable schedule. Based off the 2016 run-defense statistics, DJ faces the seventh easiest schedule for fantasy running backs, while Le’veon Bell faces the third toughest. Most fantasy league schedules do not include the final week of the season. That’s great news for DJ owners, who will avoid the stout Seahawks defense, and bad news for Bell owners, who’ll miss out on another game against the Browns.
The Cardinals offensive line is merely average, and will undergo a few changes. DJ Humphries is switching from the right side to the left, while Jared Veldheer will man the right side. Regardless, Johnson does a ton of his fantasy scoring through the air. He saw 120 targets in 2016, turning those looks into 80 receptions. Only 21 receivers saw more targets than Johnson. While Le’veon Bell is certainly no slouch in the passing game, Johnson has the edge as a receiver because he should continue to get more opportunities. With the departure of Michael Floyd, plus Larry Fitzgerald turning another year older, DJ will likely see the same, if not more than the 120 targets he saw in 2016.
When it comes down to it, we’re splitting hairs either way. Regardless who you pick, you’re getting a stud. The decision between the two is excruciatingly close.
Bell is in the better offense, with the better offensive line. Johnson is a prolific touchdown scorer, with the better fantasy schedule.
Both players should see 25-30 touches per game, and are the focal points of their respective offenses.
While Bell figures to be more efficient with his touches, he carries the greater injury risk. Johnson has yet to miss a game in his career.
Bell is going to be playing under the franchise tag in 2016, meaning he is in a contract year. Johnson is playing for a team whose HC, QB and #1 WR, are all likely to retire after the season. Therefore both players should expect to be used with reckless abandon.
For Standard Scoring Leagues, give me David Johnson, due to his insane TD production and goal-line success.
For PPR Scoring Leagues, give me Le’veon Bell, because I think the receiving numbers will be close enough to Johnson’s that his efficiency on the ground will win out.
To be completely honest, this is the closest call for the 1.01 that I can remember since I started doing this. If you still haven’t picked your draft slots for your league, I’d advise you to do everything in your power to get the number two pick. This way you won’t have to lose sleep at night trying to make this nearly impossible decision.