Bell is also now a teammate of Edwards-Helaire, the LSU running back on whom Kansas City used its first-round pick this spring. Plenty of fantasy football managers also drafted “CEH” in the first round, and Thursday’s news should have them feeling like they just got stiff-armed by Derrick Henry.
At the very least, Bell turns the Kansas City backfield into a committee situation Edwards-Helaire has handled 65.9 percent of the Chiefs’ snaps among running backs (via Football Outsiders), with Darrel Williams (26.6 percent) his primary backup and Darwin Thompson making an occasional (6.0) appearance. That kind of usage in one of the league’s best offenses has made Edwards-Helaire a borderline RB1 in half- and full-PPR formats.
Bell won’t be playing this week and could need a couple more to master Coach Andy Reid’s playbook, but it’s likelythat he eventually usurps Edwards-Helaire altogether as the top back for the Chiefs. What should have CEH owners most concerned, though, is that even as the lesser half of a committee, Bell could take away many of the touches that matter most for fantasy success.
Those would be near the goal line and in the passing game, two areas where Edwards-Helaire has had a lackluster showing thus far. His one touchdown has come on a 27-yard run, while 15 carries inside the 20-yard line, including 10 inside the 10 and seven inside the 5, have not resulted in a single score. It’s not all his fault, but the lack of success in those situations has reminded many observers that at a listed 5 feet 8 and 209 pounds, he lacks ideal size to move a pile.
Bell, on the other hand, checks in at a much bigger 6-1 and 225 pounds, and he could step in as the Chiefs’ goal-line back without needing much time to get up to speed. More ominously for Edwards-Helaire, Bell has always been an excellent receiving option.
Edwards-Helaire has also been used relatively sparingly this year in the passing game, a curious development given that he caught 55 balls last year, good for 10th-most among all receivers in the SEC. On the 27 targets that have come his way from quarterback Patrick Mahomes, he has a catch percentage of just 63.0 percent, a major drop-off from the percentages of 81.1 and 82.4 posted last season by primary pass-catching backs Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy.
Bell wasn’t great in that department as a rookie either, posting a catch percentage of 68.2 before improving to 81.6 over the next five-plus seasons including 84.6 in 15 games last season. Outside of dynasty leagues, the rest of this season is what is at stake, and Bell has a great shot at becoming Kansas City’s passing-downs back.
What the 28-year-old Bell did not show during his 17-game stint in New York was any kind of long speed; in fact, his longest run as a Jet was just 19 yards. Even there, though, the 21-year-old Edwards-Helaire doesn’t necessarily hold a major advantage, considering he posted a fairly pedestrian time of 4.60 seconds in the 40 at the NFL combine.
What remains to be seen is if Bell is simply washed up. His numbers with the Jets and his overall NFL mileage point to a player who is succumbing to the kind of late-20s career decline that afflicts so many running backs. The issue is that it’s hard to separate his relative ineffectiveness with the Jets from their relentless mediocrity, and we have seen a number of players regain fantasy relevance after getting away from Gase.
What’s nice for Bell is that Reid and Mahomes orchestrate such an efficient attack that a running back doesn’t have to be an all-pro to excel; nobody thought much of the undrafted Damien Williams, who came to the Chiefs from Gase’s Dolphins, until he got a chance in Kansas City
At the same time, that is part of what has made Edwards-Helaire somewhat of a disappointment in fantasyland after he rocketed up draft boards when Williams opted out of this season. He has actually posted a mark of negative-23.1 in fantasy points over expectation (FPOE, via Rotoviz), an efficiency metric that tells us CEH is doing less with his touches than what might have been produced by an average back. He is 146th among NFL running backs in FPOE per game, painting a troubling picture that belies his top-10 status in conventional metrics such as rushing yards, receiving yards and opportunities.
Williams, by contrast, was 12th in FPOE per game last season and when Kareem Hunt was the Chiefs’ primary back in 2017 and 2018, he finished fourth and second. In his two games played this season, Bell’s FPOE is 0.8 and he is 50th in per-game rate, indicating that even if he hasn’t been the stellar performer he once was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he might still be more effective than Edwards-Helaire.
All of that suggests that Bell is likely soon to be a solid RB2 in fantasy, whereas Edwards-Helaire appears fated to slip to the RB3/flex tier, particularly if he cedes the lion’s share of goal-line carries. Meanwhile, those rostering various running backs on the Dolphins and Bills, not to mention on some other teams that might have lured Bell, can breathe major sighs of relief.
Even Mahomes, who is having a typically terrific season, might get a fantasy boost from Bell’s receiving and pass-blocking skills. So the unexpected addition is good news for him, as well as for Bell. As for those who invested heavily in Edwards-Helaire, well, you can always root for another hamstring injury.