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The New-Look Jets Are Ready to Roll Behind Le'Veon Bell


It turns out the Cleveland Browns don’t have an exclusive hold on newfound hope for their fanbase.

Talk to any New York Jets fan under 60 years old, and they will likely tell you the highest point of their lives in their rooting roles was watching their team just make it to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010. For the long-suffering ardent followers of what has often been the second team in the New York metropolitan area, a deep playoff run, not a Super Bowl appearance, was the apex of their existence. Since those “glory years”, the Jets have gone eight consecutive seasons without a postseason appearance. Fantasy players never leaned heavily on their players for top production in recent seasons.

Now, there is real anticipation for contention again. Tom Brady can’t do this forever, the Jet fan says, and prays he is right. The team has not fielded a true star passer since the Namath days, but now Sam Darnold offers promise. An aggressive front office surrounded him with significant playmakers as soon as free agency opened. None is more important than the biggest offensive superstar the team has featured in at least a decade, when Curtis Martin was the lead RB. Hype aside, let's examine what the Le'Veon Bell signing means for the Jets in fantasy football terms for 2019 and beyond.

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The New King of New York

Le’Veon Bell is the rare offensive elite talent to don the green and white, and it made all the sense in the world for him to come to New York. If he becomes an axis of the offense and is a big part of boosting the team back into contention, he will become an iconic figure in the New York City area. If the Jets succeed with Bell as a central offensive force, he will make a lot of money off the field too, and those opportunities were unlikely to spring up as numerously anywhere else. If Bell makes the Jets into a winner, he will be a celebrity. The jersey sales are going to explode soon. Too many Jet fans wore outdated Santonio Holmes jerseys to games in the last few seasons. This ex-Steeler can have a much larger impact on team history.

Bell is immediately going to carry a large load with his new team, and even after a year off, his distinctive outstanding talents as a dual offensive threat will put him right back into the first round of fantasy football drafts in 2019. Those who painfully held onto him in keeper and dynasty formats last year will get their due rewards during the upcoming campaign.

The Jets ranked 26th in rushing offense in 2018, but now they can look more like the 10th-ranked unit the Steelers were in 2017. Adam Gase was a failure as a targeted offensive wizard with Miami, but he already has much more impressive personnel in New York. After a year of inactivity, Bell could certainly start slowly in 2019. Following a preseason holdout in 2017, he did not have a 100-yard game from scrimmage and scored once during the first three weeks.

Ultimately, though, Bell rushed for 1,291 yards and a career-high nine TDs in 2017, and he also had a career-high 85 receptions for 655 yards and two scores. He finished the regular season with six total TDs in his final four games and had 155 yards from scrimmage and two TDs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs against Jacksonville.

Bell will just need some time to get back into gear but should be a worthy selection in the second half of the first round of PPR leagues. But he will have a much different role for Bell with his new team, and he may have to work harder for his yardage as a runner. His QB is now younger and much less experienced and won’t make anywhere near the same amount of successful downfield throws that Bell’s last passer did. Plus, there is no Antonio Brown to prevent opposing defenses from focusing more intently on the running back.

Bell will undoubtedly be expected to operate as the crux of the New York offense, and to ease pressure on the young QB. He will be in the crosshairs of defenders more than ever before, as both a runner and pass-catcher. He’ll maintain a heavy workload, but the results may not be quite as sparkling as they were in Pittsburgh in a more balanced and productive offense.

Surpassing 1,300 rushing yards as he did in 2014 may be a lot to ask, but finishing up with 1,150-plus will still put him in the upper echelon of rushing leaders. I expect Bell to be busy, of course, as a pass-catcher for Darnold, who very much needed a receiving RB to help him in various situations. In a less potent Jets offense, though, expecting 80 catches or 700 receiving yards may be a bit much. Bell has never rushed for more than eight touchdowns though, and as the clear finisher for an offense that lacks a significant red zone receiving threat, he can easily match and maybe surpass that rushing TD total.

Bell’s numbers in terms of total touches and yardage may take a minor hit as he operates in a new role as clear offensive kingpin. He’ll be expected to be the unquestioned marquee guy in the offense rather than work within a star-studded crew. Yet he should be so heavily utilized that volume will demand he be considered at least as a late first-rounder.

 

Lifting Up His Teammates

Darnold needs to cut down on his mistakes and having Bell as an option in key situations should cause him to force the ball where it shouldn’t be thrown less often. The Jets have now surrounded him with a deep crew of pass-catchers. Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder can get downfield, and Quincy Enunwa and Crowder will make the tough catches. I expect Chris Herndon IV, who was impressive at times as a rookie, to continue his progress and become a frequent receiving threat near the goal line.

I see Darnold moving into the top-20 QB area in fantasy while his dynasty outlook can only improve if the Jets draft a notable WR early. The team is still missing a true difference-making WR and could come out with another significant pass-catcher in the draft. Anderson is the team’s best deep threat and top playmaker for now, and he has high WR3 appeal in fantasy. Enunwa could get some high-end WR4 consideration if he stays healthy, and while Crowder is likely the most versatile of the group, he is not a regular TD threat and is a WR4 at best. Herndon does have fantasy top-10 potential at TE. There is not much fantasy upside, though, for these pass-catchers outside of Anderson. They are operating in a crowded crew with a second-year QB who won’t be consistently airing it out frequently.

Bell will shoulder the offense when it is going well, and Darnold may be selective about his strikes to his WRs and TEs. The future belongs to Darnold, yet 2019 will be all about riding with Bell in New York.

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