Pittsburgh Steelers: Can Le’Veon Bell Join the Class of Franco Harris?

By Clyde A. Speller
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Since being selected in the second round of this year’s draft, rookie Le’Veon Bell has been unofficially appointed by many to be the starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the upcoming 2013 season. The Steelers were ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing last year (a major disappointment), and the organization and all of Steeler Nation believes that Bell could be the answer to reviving Pittsburgh’s ground attack.

Bell, who led the Big Ten in rushing in 2012 with 1,793 yards, has a lot of pressure to live up to expectations in the Steel City. Pittsburgh’s leading rusher last season was Jonathan Dwyer with only 623 yards. Following him was running back Isaac Redman with a miniscule 410 yards. Together, Dwyer and Redman barely rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,033 to be exact).

You don’t have to go too far back to find the last player to rush for over 1,000 yards for the Steelers. Rashard Mendenhall, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals, amassed 1,273 yards in 2010, and probably would have had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons had he not torn his ACL late in 2011.

However, to find the last running back to crack the 1000-yard mark on the ground in a Steelers uniform as a rookie, you will have to go back 41 years.

Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris is the one and only running back in the 80 years of the franchise’s history to rush for 1,000 yards as a rookie. He finished the 1972 regular season with 1,055 yards. The only other running back to come even close was Bam Morris in 1994 with 836 yards.

If you ask me, Bell has a great chance of becoming only the second rookie running back in Steelers history to gain 1,000 yards rushing. Harris actually did it during an era when the NFL played 14 regular season games, and Bell has the luxury of making an attempt in 16 games.

Even though I feel that Bell can accomplish this feat, he still has to prove himself to head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley that he is worthy of being Pittsburgh’s starter in the backfield. Trying to beat out two veterans in Dwyer and Redman, who are dying to prove that last year was a fluke, won’t be an easy task.

However, not only do I think that Bell will be given every opportunity to win the starting job, I also believe that the second-round draft pick will be in the starting lineup in Week 1, and will breathe life into the Steelers’ running game with probably the best rookie season by a running back in franchise history.

Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller, or add him to your network on Google+

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