Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been a fan of Le’Veon Bell since he first saw him play for the Michigan State Spartans in college. His favor towards the rookie running back was evident in the preseason when he was rested so the future workhorse running back would be fresh for the regular season.
A foot injury plagued the young running back and kept him out of the starting lineup until the Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings in London. To say that Bell’s numbers were modest once he cracked the lineup is an understatement. In his first two games combined, Bell did not rush for over a hundred yards, and suddenly the local media and fans were calling him a bust of a second-round draft pick.
Since that game, Bell’s production has been up and down, but one thing that stands out is the fact that he is a running back who has the look of an NFL superstar.
Bell is an extremely patient runner and always seems to take time finding the hole or bouncing the run outside to always gain positive yardage. Although he isn’t a big, bruising back like Jerome Bettis, Bell is big enough to get the tough yards.
Possibly one of the most impressive aspect of his game is his versatility. Not only does Bell have the physicality as well as the agility to make all the appropriate runs, he has tremendous hands catching the football out of the backfield. Although this season he has only tallied 528 yards rushing, he has 319 yards receiving. Quite simply, Bell has the skill set to do it all.
Slowly but surely, you are seeing what Tomlin has seen since draft day when the coach took no time in selecting Bell over other running backs in the draft like Green Bay Packers‘ Eddie Lacy, Denver Broncos‘ Montee Ball and Cincinnati Bengals‘ Giovani Bernard.
When comparing the statistics between Bell and his counterparts across the NFL, the numbers could be deceiving. You have to keep a couple factors in mind before criticizing him as a potential bust.
Bell’s offensive line is average at best, but let’s be honest and admit that the Steelers’ offensive line has not been very consistent opening up holes for the rookie this season. That is evident in the fact that his highest rushing day was against the Baltimore Ravens in his third week of action when he totaled 93 yards rushing. Since that game, the closest he has gotten to the century mark rushing has been 80 yards against the Cleveland Browns.
Not only has the offensive line been shoddy, but the play-calling has not been conducive to solid rushing statistics. Since the Steelers have gone primarily to a no-huddle offense, it is no surprise that Ben Roethlisberger has been leaning towards the pass. It’s good for passing totals, but bad for Bell’s overall rushing statistics. Bell’s receiving statistics have benefited from the run-and-gun offense, but his rushing stats have suffered.
Bell has the make up of a legitimate star in the NFL and on fantasy football teams. As a rookie, he is just starting to hit his stride and, that is a good thing for Steelers fans as well as fantasy football owners across the world. For Bell and the Steelers, the best is certainly yet to come.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz