Not as far as you'd think.
That's the answer I'm giving to folks who are asking me this simple question: How far does Le'Veon Bell drop in your rankings?
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back and fantasy superstar is facing a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's drug policy, according to sources (as reported by ESPN's Dan Graziano).
The reports are that the violation is for a missed drug test, not a failed one, and an appeal is underway, which is why it hasn't been announced officially by the league. That means it could go away, it could be reduced or, yes, he could miss the first four games of the season.
So let's assume he'll miss four games. How far do you drop a guy who, if 100 percent healthy and eligible for all 16 games, is the best running back in fantasy? Not as much as you'd think.
We talk about this a lot, but it's worth noting again: Fantasy football is a weekly game. Here, hang on to that for a second and let's do some quick loosey-goosey math.
We project Bell to score 188 fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring this season in 12 games played, which works out to 15.7 points a game. Last season, those 188 points would have made him the third-best running back in fantasy. Bingo bango, let's slot him in at No. 3, right?
Of course, there are some off-field concerns, and he's been seriously injured the past two years, so we can drop him a little more and call it a day, right? He's great when healthy, but there's a definite risk there. Maybe he even misses another game for some reason ... OK, let's drop him into the 9-12 range and we're done here, yes?
The key is DeAngelo Williams. From Week 9 on last season, he was the best running back in fantasy on a per-game basis. He'll be an easy top-10 running back for Week 1 against the Redskins and a must-own for anyone drafting Bell. Given Bell's injury history and the possibility of further concerns, injury or otherwise, Williams has tremendous upside. Keep in mind, Williams got double-digit carries in only eight games last season and still finished as the fourth-best running back in fantasy.
Regardless of whether you get Williams, if you draft Bell, you obviously don't have to start someone who gets you a zero. You get to replace Bell with a viable running back. Say we give you a replacement level of seven points per game from your substitute not named DeAngelo Williams. Now you're at 216 total points from that running back position, or one point less than last season's No. 2 at the position, Adrian Peterson.
There's risk with Bell for a variety of reasons, but when he's right there is no one better. Frankly, given his injury, extra time to rest before the season and less wear and tear during the course of the season is actually a good thing for Bell.
Assuming the four-game suspension and considering the additional risk, I have Bell as my No. 6 RB and an easy selection in the second round overall. I have moved Williams up to RB26 in my ranks and think he's worth grabbing in the seventh or eighth round, though if I owned Bell I would absolutely reach for Williams in the sixth. And for deeper leagues, Fitzgerald Toussaint, who had more than 100 total yards in the Steelers' first-round playoff victory against the Bengals last postseason, becomes worth consideration as a late-round flier.