PITTSBURGH -- Fantasy drafters can be relieved that Le'Veon Bell passed his physical Friday and is ready to return to practice. But does the time missed put the Pittsburgh Steelers back behind David Johnson or others in the fantasy hierarchy?
Here's an argument on each side.
Why Bell should be No. 1: Bell is a 25-year-old workhorse in his prime and entering another contract year -- just like last year, when he averaged an obscene 157 yards from scrimmage per game. Bell stayed in superb shape while away from the team and wouldn't have taken hits in training camp anyway. He might actually be fresher than usual. Bell's offensive line is one of the league's best, and the presence of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant will provide operating room for Bell as a rusher and pass-catcher. No running back has averaged more total yards in his first four years than Bell's 128.7 since 2013. He's about as automatic as they come, with more expansive receiving ability than he's been able to show. The answer to any rust is the Browns' 31st-ranked rushing defense in Week 1. And the inexperience of backups James Conner and Terrell Watson will force Bell to shoulder the load once again.
Why Bell should not be No. 1: The Steelers have more offensive weapons than Johnson has in Arizona, resulting in the potential for the Pittsburgh back to compile slightly less yardage over 16 games. In order to preserve Bell for the playoffs, the Steelers could spread the ball around more and not load 30 touches a game on him, at least early in the season. Despite Bell's greatness, his scoring -- 31 touchdowns over 47 career games -- could use a boost. Even the most ardent Bell supporters in the Steelers locker room expect at least some lag from missing five weeks of practices. He might need a few games to rediscover his old self. Injuries have piled up the last three seasons, making it uncertain how long his body will hold up. The Steelers can decide to use Conner as a change-of-pace back on third downs, thus affecting Bell's bottom-line production.
The verdict ...: Bell and Johnson are both worthy top picks, but this season is set up well for Bell as a top scorer. The Steelers are at their best with a run-pass balance, and Bell drives that equation. Bell is still a top-10 player league wide and capable of scoring as much as anyone.