Gil Brandt is certainly one of the more respectable analysts who work for the NFL Network. His work not only stands up on its own merits, he is also one of the few who have the credentials to back it up.
Nevertheless, fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers would hardly need convincing in his latest article when Brandt wrote that running back Le’Veon Bell is among the second-year players ready to take the next step in their game.
There were many key moments from Bell’s rookie season that signaled to observers a greater maturity than his age would let on. The one moment that many point to tends to be the would-be touchdown run in the second game against the Baltimore Ravens that left Bell concussed, sacrificing his body for the good of the team at a critical moment.
That was certainly the moment that suggested to me that Bell had fully earned the respect of his teammates by showing that he was in this thing with the rest of them. But the defining moment of his season, I believe, is the one that Brandt highlighted from the Green Bay Packers game in the opening of his write-up on Bell.
Bell entered that Week 16 game having had well over 200 touches without the ball ever coming loose. That changed in a heartbeat deep in Steelers territory when he put the ball on the ground and the Packers recovered.
It seemed as though the defense held, and then they managed to block the field goal attempt, but due to batting the ball forward, the Packers regained possession and scored a touchdown on the next play.
On Bell’s very next carry, he ripped right through the middle of the defense, hurdling a defender for a 25-yard run, and soon thereafter securing the first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
About Bell Brandt writes:
Thought to be a finesse back with good hands coming out of Michigan State, Bell showed himself to be a tough power runner capable of moving the chains. Though a foot injury delayed his NFL debut by three games, he made 13 starts, racking up 860 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Bell also has the catching ability — he snared 45 passes for 399 yards — to be able to play on all downs. Yes, free-agent addition LeGarrette Blount will probably take away some carries and maybe a touchdown or two, but I still expect Bell to take a leap forward, especially behind an improved Steelers offensive line.
He also projects that Bell will rush for 1200 yards in his second season for nine touchdowns while adding 50 receptions. Call me an eternal optimist, but that all sounds well within his reach.
Bell actually ran for nine touchdowns last season if you include the aforementioned negated touchdown against the Ravens. He had 45 receptions in 13 games, so 50 is certainly a moderate target.
While he only rushed for 860 yards last season on 244 carries, that should be expected to improve both through his own growth and through the growth of the offensive line. He projected a 1060-yard season last year in a 16-game schedule as it is.
More significantly, however, is that the running game was operating much more smoothly and efficiently toward the end of the year. He averaged about 80 yards on the ground per game over the last six weeks of the season. The Steelers are certainly expecting to see Bell take the next step next season, and evidently so do many others around the league.