When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL draft the discusssion immediately turned to what his role would be in the Steelers offense in 2013. The Steelers offense struggled last year to find balance on offense, often having to lean so heavily on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that the run game was all but forgotten. And so it’s clear that the Steelers didn’t draft Bell to sit on the bench.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Bell will be the starting running back by the second week of the season and assuming he stays healthy probably won’t look back. The reason for this is based on last season. The Steelers had hoped that running back Rashard Mendenhall would have been able to return to the starting lineup, but was hampered with injuries the entire season.
Don’t get me wrong, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman did their best to hold down the fort, but even during that time head coach Mike Tomlin maintained that when healthy Mendenhall was the best back on the roster and would start. Comparing Mendenhall to Bell there are many similarities. Both are big, strong runners with quick feet and a nice overall skill set. Neither are breakaway backs but Bell offers a much more complete game than either Dwyer or Redman, so I think Tomlin will view him as a much more complete option.
The offense became almost predictable with Dwyer or Redman on the field so adding a back who the Steelers can work out of a more diverse playbook that has to be enticing. When you couple that with the fact he was a second round pick for a season that is a full on rebuild, this team needs all hands on deck. If the Steelers miss the playoffs two years in a row, fans are going to wonder if Tomlin can really win with a team that’s all his, and that’s the last thing he wants. He is going to put his best players on the field, rookie or not.