Final grades for the Pittsburgh Steelers continue with running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell was drafted by the Steelers in the second round as the 48th overall pick in the draft. Questions arose immediately about Bell’s ability to ‘survive’ physically in the NFL. With 671 carries in just three years – 382 coming in his senior year – many wondered if the wheels would come off too soon for this young back. Bell won the starting job but was delayed in reaching that role. Let’s check out the numbers and give a final grade.
860 yards in thirteen games is not really that bad. Were Bell to play in all 16 games, he would more than likely have broken through the 1,000 yard mark – something that doesn’t happen often in Steelers history. Bell ranks 12th in the league for number of carries and 17th in yards among all running backs. He ranks 17th among backs in yards per rush with over 200 carries, which is probably his weakest stat. His 8 TD’s is tied for 11th among all backs and is second to only Eddie Lacy’s 11 TD’s among rookie rushers. Bell added some nice receiving yards to his stat line and showed later in the season how effective he can be out in the flat or with the screen pass. His total contributions to the offense (rushing & receiving) is near tops in the league. His only fumble all season came against the Packers – which is very good considering some of the poor weather games he played in during 2013. His best game came during that same game where he rushed for 124 yards – the Steelers first 100 yard rushing performance since last November of 2012.
The Year in Review:
There’s no doubt that Bell’s injury plagued training camp and start to the season hindered his maturation in his rookie season. It took some games before he even was handed the ball over 20 times in a single game. The complex problems with the Steelers offense kept Bell from really finding a rhythm in the running game and at times questionably shared the work load with Dwyer in key situations. The offensive line, once again, was decimated with injury after injury. The zone blocking scheme that was supposed to make the offense a better rushing offense was scrapped for the entire season after Week 1. Todd Haley loved the shotgun draw in 2013 even with a line that took about nine games to finally seem cohesive enough to make some holes and keep their QB from getting killed. To put it simply, Bell had a rough year, yet was able to produce at a respectable rate during his rookie season. There were moments of brilliance in the way he ran. His agility allowed him to break tackles with spins moves, jukes, and a few hurdles. He missed few holes and stayed discipline late in the season by committing sooner instead of just bouncing runs to the outside. Were the offensive line able to consistently block for Bell all season, Steeler Nation would have seen a very good showing from Bell and his skill set. Starting in Week 14, his YPC was consistently over four yards. There was certainly upswing to this guy as the season wore on.
The Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America voted Bell as the recipient of the 2014 Joe Greene Great Performance award, given annually to the team’s top rookie. Bell also beat out Franco Harris’ rookie year total yards from scrimmage with 1,259 (to Harris’ 1,235). Franco did that in 14 games, Bell achieved his in 13. Bell put up eight TD’s and almost broke into the top 10 in the NFL in that category. That’s quite an achievement while being on an offense that continued its Red Zone struggles from seasons past.
Bell’s stock is up up up for next season and beyond. But, it’s rather difficult to pin down Bell’s performance for 2013. Bell’s average per rush is the weak spot in his stat line (and maybe his case of looking downfield before catching the ball). And, the rushing game finished 27th overall in the league. However that is not entirely his fault, if much at all. The offensive line’s lack of blocking early on and Toddy Haley’s persistence to run plays that had low percentages for gaining over three yards (like the shotgun draw), hindered his progress and shaded the stat line in a negative way. Bell has skills, utilized them, and made the best of what could be done for the 2013 Steelers offense. I questioned his drafting, but I was probably patient with him more than any other Steeler on that roster. That patience paid off, and I think Bell had a solid season as a rookie. There’s room for improvement in his game, and he may not be the fastest back to wear the Black & Gold, but once the O-line improves to a level above luke warm mayo, he’ll be showing not only Steeler Nation but the entire league that he’s here to make some noise among running backs.