I was not a big fan of selecting Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the NFL Draft last week but it wasn’t because of anything Bell did or did not do. I honestly thought the Pittsburgh Steelers could have waited and grabbed him in the 3rd round but I certainly could have been wrong too.
While I liked Eddy Lacy, I had some reservations about him as well but the thing I cannot fault the Steelers on at all is the fact they took the guy they wanted. As a fan, supporter and critic, I can say and believe whatever I want to but I also respect a team for targeting guys and then selecting them in the draft. It’s refreshing to see an organization ‘do as it says.’
The first thing I really like about Bell has nothing to do with his ability, but rather his toughness and perseverance. Last season, Michigan State had a less then positive season despite high expectations. The offense, behind first-year starter Andrew Maxwell at QB, struggled all season long. Their offensive line was every bit as young and patch-worked through the season as the Steelers’ was and Maxwell and his receivers never found the same page.
Bell was the only saving grace for this offense as he rushed for over 1,700 yards on almost 382 carries and literally, and I do mean ‘literally,’ carried this team to wins. He rushed 44 times in the opener against Boise State for 210 yards and then carried 35 times for 266 yards in the team’s bowl win over TCU.
The fact that Bell was able to perform this well at the beginning and end of the season speaks volumes for his physicality and his durability.
He did have some less than stellar games as well though. Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin all held him to under 100 yards rushing and this is concerning. All four of those teams play pretty good run defense and while it was clear they dared Maxwell to beat them, he could not. Therefore eight and nine guys in the box was the norm.
Bell will see good defenses every week in the NFL which is why Ben Roethlisberger being allowed to throw the ball can open up the running game for Bell. This is a pass-first league whether the Steelers and Art Rooney II will admit it. Passing the ball now sets up the run more than any other time in the game of football.
I believe Bell has the potential to be a very good back for the Steelers but he isn’t the type that can dominate on his own the way he did in college. I like his physical style and he possess very quick feet for such a big man at running back. His penchant for hurdling tacklers though must be reduced. While it is pretty to watch, at the NFL-level, it will get him leveled more often than not.
Bell is sneaky good out of the backfield as a receiver as well. In the last two seasons at MSU, he recorded over 60 receptions for an average of 6.4 yards per reception. He is also an excellent blocker in pass protection. This was an area I believe the Steelers had him head and shoulders above Lacy.
When looking at the current stable of backs Pittsburgh possesses, Bell is the most balanced and well-rounded in my opinion. I don’t know that he runs as physically as Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman do at times, but what he offers with his all-around game is the best option at running back.
If Todd Haley uses Bell appropriately and not as a battering ram on first and second down, then the Steelers will have done right in drafting him.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.