Are Fantasy Managers Sleeping on David Bell in Redraft?

May 09, 2022
Are Fantasy Managers Sleeping on David Bell in Redraft?

David Bell played three seasons at Purdue and entered the 2022 NFL Draft after a very impressive collegiate career. He fell in the draft due to concerns regarding his athleticism and became the 99th pick to the Cleveland Browns. He was the 16th receiver to come off the board which was a bit of a shock, considering the kind of dominance he displayed.

His fall down draft boards resulted in a very soft landing, however. Being drafted by the Cleveland Browns has not historically been a good thing, but for Bell, it presents a lot of opportunities. For starters, he'll be catching passes from DeShaun Watson this season who has proven to be an elite-level quarterback, and the depth chart behind Amari Cooper is primed for the taking.


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David Bell's Collegiate Career

If you were to look strictly at his stats at Purdue, he was a sure-fire first-round pick. As a true freshman, he earned 128 targets, which was the ninth-most in the country. Despite being just 18 years old and playing in a Power-5 conference, Bell proved immediately he belonged. He caught 67.2% of his targets for a total of 86 receptions. He finished his first collegiate season with 1,035 yards and 7 touchdowns. He had a 2.11 yard per route run average—67th out of 134 qualifying receivers with at least 75 targets.

The Covid-19 shortened season limited Purdue to just six games in 2020, but Bell made the most of his limited time. He averaged 13 targets per game as a sophomore and increased his yard per game average from 84 yards to 104. His average ranked fourth in the country and had he played the typical 13 games, he would've finished with 1,354 yards. He also finished with eight touchdowns, which was tied for 14th in the country, despite playing in just six games. He also increased his yard per route run average to 2.24. This ranked 51st out of 146 qualifying receivers with at least 50 targets (a smaller threshold due to the shortened seasons across the country).

His last season at Purdue would end up being his best. He had the most targets (133), most receptions (93), and most yards (1,275) of his career. He accounted for 22.9% of his team's total receptions, a 23.0% target share, and 27.6% of the team's passing yardage. He finished 10th in the country in total targets, 11th in receptions, and 15th in yards. He once again increased his yard per route run average and finished his junior season at 2.70, which ranked 28th out of 123 qualifying receivers with at least 75 targets.

Bell recorded an 18.7 breakout age, which ranked in the 94th-percentile, a 35.1% college dominator (69th-percentile), and a 28.7% target share, which ranked in the 86th-percentile. Looking at his collegiate stats and these predictive markers for future success, what made Bell fall to the end of the third round?

The question becomes whether the NFL is relying too heavily on his athletic traits. There's no denying that he bombed his combine performance. He did not finish in the top-20 in the forty-yard dash, vertical jump, or broad jump. He was last among the 13th participants in the 20-yard shuttle. It was a disastrous performance. However, the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective published a study in February 2015 that focused on the correlation between combine performances and future NFL success. They had this to say about the receiver position,

None of the coefficients came out as significant for WRs. In fact, WRs are the only position in which the model can't signiciantly predict success. This is somewhat surprising. Maybe route-running abilites really are more important than raw athleticism.

Now that we know who David Bell is, what he brings to the table, and what his limitations are, is there any upside in Cleveland for him as a rookie?

David Bell's Role in Cleveland

There is a lot to like about Bell's opportunity as a rookie. According to 4for4's data regarding each team's available targets and air yards, the Purdue standout has a legitimate shot to carve out a solid role in Year One. The Browns have the sixth-most available targets with 233 and the fifth-most air yards with 2,041. Cleveland did acquire Amari Cooper from Dallas this offseason before the receiver market exploded. He'll serve as Watson's No. 1 receiver. The No. 2 spot, however, is completely up for grabs.

Right now, Donovan Peoples-Jones holds that spot, but there's no reason to believe he can't be pushed aside. He's been in the NFL for two seasons and has a total of just 78 targets, 48 receptions, 901 yards, and 5 touchdowns. He was a sixth-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In three seasons at Michigan, Peoples-Jones never amassed more than 650 yards in any year. His three-year career totals come out to 103 receptions, 1,327 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Peoples-Jones' collegiate totals look very similar to Bell's junior season. However, the former Wolverine did sport a 9.63 RAS score, but as you can see, it hasn't helped him to any NFL success.

The Browns attempted 520 passes last season and fantasy managers should be expecting that number to be a touch higher given Watson's arrival. While Cooper should be expected to be the No. 1 target, he's rarely been a target hog. In fact, the most targets he's ever earned in a season is 132. Now entering his eighth season in the NFL, there's no reason to expect him to earn a Justin Jefferson or Davante Adams type of target share.

How the targets are distributed behind Cooper is anyone's guess. Those in the competition will be Peoples-Jones, David Njoku, and Bell. That's a competition Bell could come out on top of. Njoku is another player who entered the NFL with an elite RAS (9.3), but after five seasons he has yet to finish with more than 90 targets, 60 receptions, or 650 yards.

Watson's career per-game averages amount to 4,573 yards and 33 touchdowns across 17 games. There's no question Watson has the ability to transform this passing attack and elevate it to heights Baker Mayfield simply could not. How coach Kevin Stefanski alters the offense to accommodate Watson's skillset is a question, but there's no reason to believe the Browns don't pass the ball at a higher clip considering the assets they gave up to get Watson to Cleveland. That increase in passing volume and efficiency from the quarterback position has the ability to benefit the pass-catchers, as well.

Fantasy managers need to be prepared for the fact Watson could be suspended to start the 2022 NFL season. Similar cases have seen the likes of Ben Roethlisberger suspended for six games in 2020 after prosecutors decided not to charge him in a case involving a 20-year-old college student who accused him of sexual assault. That suspension was eventually cut down to four games. The NFL has been very quiet on the Watson front and it's unknown how they may choose to handle it. At this time, fantasy managers are best anticipating a likely 4–6 game suspension.

Bell currently has an ADP of 152.9 on Underdog and is being selected as the WR68. Even with Watson's looming suspension, fantasy managers should be comfortable drafting Bell ahead of that price tag. Bell has a fairly clear pathway to 100+ targets in his first year and proved he can be a very productive receiver at Purdue despite his questionable athleticism. The possible Watson suspension shouldn't scare fantasy managers away from drafting Bell. At his current ADP, you're not drafting him to be a starter right away. You should be able to wait out Watson's suspension and if it is 4–6 games, Bell will get a major quarterback boost right around the time bye weeks start.

Receivers such as Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR55), Rondale Moore (56), and Mecole Hardman (WR60) do not appear to have the same upside as Bell does and fantasy managers should feel confident drafting Bell around that WR50 range, which results in an ADP around pick No. 115.

The Bottom Line

  • David Bell was incredibly productive at Purdue and posted an elite dominator score and breakout age.
  • Averaged 8 receptions and 102 receiving yards per game in his collegiate career.
  • Struggled mightily at the combine and his poor speed and athleticism caused him to fall to the bottom of round three.
  • Cleveland presents Bell with a lot of opportunity in terms of available targets and air yards.
  • Minimal target competition and elite-level QB play await him.
  • Fantasy managers should value Bell as a high-end WR5 with WR4 upside.
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