2018 Fantasy Football: Are you looking to Conner the Le’Veon Bell Market?

Shawn Childs discusses the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le'Veon Bell square off along with James Conner's potential role in 2018 as we inch closer to Opening Kickoff!

James Conner
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

For each city in the NFL, there’s a dream of winning a Super Bowl championship. It is elusive for many teams while others feel it is their destiny. Entering 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a top three favorite in the NFL with an aging QB (Ben Roethlisberger), a stud RB1 (Le’Veon Bell), a stud WR1 (Antonio Brown), and a developing second WR (Juju Smith-Schuster). This group of players is the foundation of one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.

When the lights come on in Week 1, Pittsburgh will be without their lead running back as they believe he’s not worthy of a long-term investment while entering the season at age 26. The Steelers have sold all their season tickets with Bell as part of the winning equation. They have taken their huge piece of the TV pie while also making tons of money selling the jersey of number 26.

I understand football is a business, but it shouldn’t be a one-way street. The best players in the game shouldn’t have to claw to get their market value while their franchise reaps the reward of their success. Fans have poured their hearts into this team for years, and they love their star players. The goal should be to put the best product on the field each Sunday.

This week the line has been drawn in the sand in the Le’Veon Bell saga. He wants to get paid before risking his future for a token franchise contract. As of today, he doesn’t have a contract as his franchise tender was never signed.

The biggest challenge for 2018 is finding a balance of what Bell is worth for this season to get him paid and his future earning power. If he plays this year and blows out his ACL, Bell is back to square one in the financial stepping stone in the NFL while losing precious time in his short NFL career. By not playing, Le’Veon forgoes a nice payday that the average fan would die for, but he also protects himself to earn his next multi-year contract.

As it stands right now, Bell doesn’t have to reports to the Steelers until Week 11. By doing so, he protects his free agent eligibility while losing over 60 percent of his earning this year. If he returns at this date, will the Steelers still be in contention? And will Bell have the heart or desire to put his career on the line for a team that doesn’t respect his value? In addition, the dissension of his teammates could lead to a disastrous end of the year.

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If we take the stand that Bell is going to miss ten weeks, the saving to the Steelers would be ten million dollars. The question then becomes; is that gain in revenue worth the net loss in publicity, team morale, and fan base?

I don’t have the numbers, and I’m sure a smarter guy could do the correct math. For Bell to play in 2018 for Pittsburgh, he would have to make enough money to buy an insurance policy to protect his future earning plus be satisfied with his earning power this season.

If the Steelers were to win the Super Bowl, what would their net gain in revenue be for the team and the marketing for the players?

The bottom line here is that Bell has been a special player for the Steelers with the ability to do some things that only the greats in the game can do. The fans have paid to see him play. They bleed Black and Gold, and they deserve to see him on the field in 2018. I almost wanted to start a go fund me account for $10 million to show the love of the fans. To attain that number in donations, it may only cost one million fans ten dollars. With DirecTV charging well over $300 for a season and football fans paying an insane amount of money to go to a live game, it seems like a small price to pay to see their star on the field. You could even add in the millions of Fantasy Fans that want/need Bell to play.

I don’t know what the answer to the unfortunate battle is, but I sense it will come out in the next player’s association contract with the NFL in a couple of years. The NFL is a great game, and we all enjoy the event on Sunday, but the ultimate greed of the owners is going to hurt the game at some point in the future.

Now, the bigger question comes in the Fantasy world, what is his draft value this weekend when the biggest events are drafted live in Las Vegas?

The direction of Bell’s holdout doesn’t sound good once the details of his possible return came out (Week 11). I don’t get the sense that the Steelers will pay him his market value, and his future in Pittsburgh is all but over after this season.


The best path for a Fantasy owner would be to avoid him totally and let someone else deal with the guesswork of his value and the timing of drafting his handcuff (James Conner).

Without Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh is going to use a two-back rotation. Conner will get the early down action plus goal-line carries. He’ll see some action in the passing game, but I expect Jaylen Samuels to see most the chances on passing downs.

Jaylen Samuels
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

If Conner had a full season of playing time, I would expect 300+ touches with 1,400 to 1,600 combined yards with double-digit TDs and about 25 catches. With this success, he would be considered an RB2 in the Fantasy market with more potential upside with more snaps on passing downs. With this idea in mind, Conner should fit in somewhere being Jordan Howard and Mark Ingram in the draft rankings in PPR leagues.

Last night I saw and drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round in a 12-team league from pick ten. The goal and game plan if he fell was to try to handcuff him coming out of the eight round. A wise drafter looking to win an overall prize happily drafted Conner in the sixth round.

If Bell misses one to four games, he is still going to finish as top 12 RB in 2018. Conner should deliver RB2 value, which is a net loss of about four to six Fantasy points per week from the value of Bell.

In my particular draft, I added Tevin Coleman in the fifth round as I was trying to add another RB that had playable value while also offering upside. I did this with the thought that I still had a chance at Conner. After missing on my handcuff and seeing the draft flow and future opportunities at RB, I should have drafted Conner instead of Coleman. I would protect my interest in Bell while also gaining a starter for the time being.

Now the dilemma for the Fantasy owners competing for an overall prize; the teams drafting Bell early had a leg kicked out from under them before they even reached the starting box. The Conner owners bought him at a discounted price, which will be a huge boost out of the gate. In essence, none Bell and Conner owners want both players to fail to offer impact value over the long season thus helping the other teams in the league in their quest to win their league prizes and overall money.

In the end, my gut tells me to avoid Bell at any price as his holdout will also lead to injury risk. I would treat James Conner as the long-term starter while drafting accordingly.

I know this thought process is much easier while writing on the computer than sitting at the draft table. Most Fantasy owners will remember Bell having a great run at the end of 2016 to help win many league and overall titles. I don’t see the stars aligning again for the this unless the news breaks quickly in Bell’s favor in the next week.

In the end, keep in mind that Pittsburgh has a tough schedule from Week 9 to Week 13 (@BAL, CAR, @JAC, @DEN, and LAC). The Steelers do finish the Fantasy year with three favorable matchups (@OAK, NE, and @NO).

After dealing with the Ezekiel Elliott situation in 2017, I’m of the mindset of getting players to help me win early and late in the season. Le’Veon could very well turn out to be the deal of a lifetime while James Conner is a trap. That is why we play the game. We place our bets on our opinion.

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Shawn Childs
About Shawn Childs 554 Articles
Shawn Childs has been a high stakes Fantasy baseball and football player since 2004 where he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). In early years of the high stakes market in Fantasy baseball, he was ahead of the curve in player evaluation, draft value, and free agent bidding setting up four top-five finishes in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has four AL-only Auction titles, one NL-only title, and five Main Event titles plus an overall title in 2012 at RTFBC (netted $10,000). This success led to an induction into the NFBC Baseball Hall of Fame. His success in the high stakes market led to a career in providing Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Football content. On the football side, he’s competed and won in all different formats – auctions, draft championship, main events, and high-dollar leagues. He won 2nd place overall in the 2014 Most Accurate Salary Cap Expert contest at FantasyPros.As a dual-sport player, it was natural to transition to the daily games where he is a “swing for the fences type of guy.” Childs has appeared in one FanDuel NFL Live Final and one DraftKings NFL Live Final, a season-ending tournament which led to a couple of chances to win over $1,000,000.