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ADP Showdown: Melvin Gordon vs. Le'Veon Bell

Many different drafting strategies can lead to great success for fantasy managers. Whether you opt to hammer running backs early, load up on top receivers, or take a more balanced approach, you can certainly wind up winning your league's championship. Of course, this all depends on if you draft the right players when tough decisions need to be made. Missing on an early pick can be catastrophic, and the pain stings even worse when the guy you passed on racks up points. A poor draft can not only damage your team, but it can help your opponents out as well. This scenario is why this article is here.

Two running backs going very close to each other are Melvin Gordon and Le'Veon Bell. Gordon finds himself on a new team this season, leaving the Los Angeles Chargers for their AFC West rivals, the Denver Broncos. Gordon had a strange season in 2019, as he missed the first four weeks of the season with a contract dispute. He did manage to finish as the RB23 in PPR formats despite both the holdout and then-teammate Austin Ekeler's breakout season. Gordon now enters a backfield that also features Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, but he figures to be the primary ball-carrier in Denver's offense in 2020.

Bell, on the other hand, remains with his franchise from 2019: the New York Jets. Much has been made of Bell's relationship with head coach Adam Gase, but for fantasy managers, all that matters is if he plays and if he plays well. Of course, this could be in doubt. While Bell did rank as the RB16 in PPR in 2019, his performance was rather disappointing compared to his stardom in Pittsburgh. In 2017, Bell scored 257 fantasy points, but last year he managed just 149. Thankfully, Bell's only competition in 2020 seems to be aging tailback Frank Gore, although Gore does always succeed in carving out a niche. Like Gordon, Bell faces some uncertainty heading into the upcoming season.

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The Case for Gordon

Gordon switching teams, and receiving a new contract, has led to an improvement in his ADP compared to 2019. Last year his ADP was 49th overall, but this offseason it is a little higher at 40th. With no threat of a holdout, and without last year's RB4 Austin Ekeler crowding the backfield, Gordon certainly should improve in Denver. Gordon may have only sat out the first four games last year, but he didn't begin to find his stride until Week Nine against the Green Bay Packers. In his first four appearances, Gordon managed just 112 rushing yards on 44 carries, 37 receiving yards, and two total touchdowns. His numbers rebounded significantly in the latter half of the season though. His 16-game pace from Week Nine to Week 17 would have placed him as the RB7 for PPR.

Clearly Gordon can play at a high level even with a talented backfield-mate. This could be very important this season, considering the Broncos have retained Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay ran for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns last season, so he will garner his fair share of his touches. Nonetheless, Gordon's production shows that this may not be much of an issue. The Broncos rushing attack averaged the eighth-most yards per carry before contact last year, reflecting the quality of linemen blocking for them. Denver can sustain an efficient enough rushing attack for Gordon to produce good numbers.

Gordon's ADP suggests that most managers are selecting him as their RB2. The Broncos will likely give Gordon 15-20 touches per game, which is right in line with his usage in the back half of 2019. Lindsay's success could factor into whether this number is closer to 15 or 20, but in either case, Gordon should be able to clear the top-20 RB benchmark. The main concern with him is if he starts the season slowly once again, which could open the door for Lindsay or Freeman to eat away at his role in the offense.


The Case for Bell

Bell used to be a surefire top-five running back in fantasy, but not anymore. After switching teams last offseason, Bell's ADP was seventh overall; now it's all the way down at 37th. This decline in demand does increase his relative value, however. Bell's statistics were severely lacking last season, especially his yards per carry. This can be partially waved away by New York's atrocious run blocking, which gave the team's running backs just 1.4 yards per carrying before contact. The Jets addressed this issue by drafting massive tackle Mekhi Becton and signing a host of new linemen in free agency, so Bell should be able to muster more than 3.2 YPC in 2020.

Any improvement in efficiency should boost Bell's production significantly, especially considering the role that he had in the offense in 2019. The Jets gave Bell 246 carries last season, which ranked 11th in the league. Bell also received 78 targets, which was seventh among running backs. Despite this workload, he was given just 27 red zone touches, 27th most at his position. More carries in such situations would allow Bell to improve upon his mere three rushing touchdowns a season ago.

Like Gordon, Bell is being viewed as an RB2 in this season's drafts. His presumed share of the team's offense provides him with a reasonably high floor, and his performances in previous seasons suggest that a top-five finish at the position is not out of the question. If the Jets offense begins to click in quarterback Sam Darnold's third season, which is admittedly a big if, Bell could blow his current projections out of the water. However, his star-level seasons are from 2017 and before, so even if his team is more successful there is no guarantee that it would be because of him.


The Verdict

Both of these players have had large amounts of success in the past, and both have an opportunity to regain their prominence. Neither one should have too many issues receiving enough touches, especially Bell. However, I'm going to roll with Gordon here. His production last season was significantly more promising, and his game script will likely be more favorable as well. It is difficult for me to trust Bell after his subpar performance last year, even if some of it could be blamed on the team. Take Gordon and let someone else risk the weekly headache that comes with the New York Jets.

Final Verdict: Gordon over Bell

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