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We Need To Talk About Joique Bell

Joique Bell

The Detroit Lions’ primary running back is owned in just a tenth of ESPN fantasy leagues.

But, you stammer with spittle on your lips and outrage in your heart, Mikel Leshoure is owned in 98 percent of ESPN fake football leagues. You just ran to your waiver wire and checked – he’s not there.

Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell

Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell throws the ball over the upright after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Thanksgiving day game against the Houston Texans at Ford Field. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Revise your waiver search. It’s Joique Bell you’re looking for.

Leshoure, who has been force fed the rock on and off since his Week 3 debut – when he rumbled for 100 yards and a score – is now trapped in the jaws of a troublesome timeshare with Bell, with his workload slipping by the week. Probably this wouldn’t be anything close to the case if Detroit could grab a lead and hold onto it. If that were so, they could salt away the game clock with Leshoure’s mundane three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust off-tackle runs.

Detroit stinks, as you know, so Bell, the team’s exclusive passing down back, gets a boatload of touches in all-out comeback mode. Matthew Stafford sidearm flings it to his running back again and again in these flailing must-score second half drives.

It’s not just the passing-down role that has deflated Leshoure’s value. Bell passes the eye test: he has more wiggle and lateral agility than Leshoure (who has none), and the numbers bear that out. Bell is averaging 5.4 yards per carry, well above Leshoure’s paltry 3.7 average.

In Week 13 against the Colts, Bell took 11 carries for 87 yards (11.6 YPC), breaking tackles and looking like the far superior back. Leshoure posted a pedestrian 57 yards on 21 carries (2.7 YPC). In Week 14, with Leshoure sitting for much of the second half against the Packers, Bell gained 49 yards on 12 totes and caught five balls for 47 yards.

Leshoure has cracked 60 yards rushing in exactly two of his past seven games.

The Lions’ coaching staff has proven their commitment to Leshoure, with whom they invested a 2011 second round draft pick. They want desperately for him to succeed; I get that. The painful truth is that Leshoure is a plodder, perhaps due to his devastating Achilles tendon rupture before the 2011 season. Maybe that’s just who he is – not bad, but not great, by any definition.

Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan heaped praise on Leshoure this fall, and while he hasn’t publicly criticized his depth chart’s No. 1 running back, Linehan has made a point to talk up Bell since mid-November.

“The way he ran the ball and has been playing certainly gives him an opportunity now, I think for more opportunities,” Linehan told the Lions’ official website in early December. “I think we talked about how he did in preseason. The more he played, the more he produced and that hasn’t changed. It’s been that way all year.”

The takeaway there should be Linehan’s mention of more playing time for Bell. That certainly doesn’t mean he’ll usurp Leshoure as the team’s starter, or even take more carries this week at Arizona. Take note though that Linehan is keenly aware that his passing-down back is more effective with more touches, whether in the running or passing game. Bell even got a carry from the six yard line in Green Bay on Sunday night, much to the consternation of Leshoure owners who know their guy is as touchdown dependent as any starting running back in the league.

Here’s a quick look at snap counts over the past three weeks.

  • Week 12: 34 snaps for Leshoure, 19 for Bell
  • Week 13: 43 snaps for Leshoure, 21 for Bell
  • Week 14: 43 snaps for Bell, 31 for Leshoure

Bell’s ascension couldn’t have come at a better time for fantasy owners desperate for a viable flex option in Week 15. The Cardinals, a club in full-blown meltdown mode in every facet of the game, have given up an average of 205 rushing yards over their past three games. Arizona’s front seven has been bullied, much like Oakland’s, and there’s no reason to think they’ll suddenly stiffen against the Lions.

The Cardinals allow 16.8 fantasy points per game to running backs, 12th worst in the league, and that’s only thanks to a strong start against the run in September and October.

Both Detroit backs could very well post dandy numbers against the dissolving bunch of sad sacks formerly known as the Cardinals. Use bell as a plug-and-play top-24 running back in PPR formats, or as a fine flex guy in standard leagues.

You might have to wait until the Lions flip the switch to aerial mode, but Bell will get his in Week 15.

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