Glancing across the NFL landscape, there are some tremendously gifted running backs, ranging from last year’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, who turned his 1,845 yards into a five-year/$40 million payday from the Philadelphia Eagles, to aging stars like Adrian Peterson, who’s returning after missing most of 2014 due to a league mandated suspension.
However, give a poll to any amount of Steelers fans and the results are likely to come back with one common denominator and that’s the fact that they probably wouldn’t trade Le’Veon Bell for any other running back in the entire league. His blend of speed, power, burst, vision and soft hands make him a rarity amongst the dying breed of true three-down backs across a league where a lot of teams have taken on a backfield-by-committee approach.
True, his 1,361 yards rushing came in a distant second in the league to Murray in 2014, but he more than made up for it with his pass catching skills, accruing 854 yards through the air to just 416 for Murray. Heading into the 2015 season, Marc Sessler, a writer for Around the NFL, compiled his listing of the top backfields, with the Eagles stable ranked first on his list.
With Murray leading the charge, along with the oft-injured but talented Ryan Mathews behind him and the human spark plug, Darren Sproles, bringing up the rear, it’s as deep a group as you’ll find anywhere in the league. Checking in at second and third on his list were the hard-charging, household name running backs, Marshawn Lynch and Peterson, of the Seahawks and Vikings respectively.
Speaking of the Vikings, their running backs coach, Kirby Wilson, held the same title in 2014 during Bell’s rookie campaign, and he knows firsthand what a special talent Bell is. It’s a major reason why the Steelers backfield came in fifth in Sessler’s rankings, but with stronger depth behind him, there could be an argument for the top overall spot, as Bell is arguably the best do-it-all runner in the game.
“No question,” Wilson said, when asked about Bell’s hierarchy as a top runner, according to Sessler. “The first thing is he’s extremely gifted from a technique standpoint. He’s extremely instinctive as a runner, he’s got a tremendous amount of versatility, he can do a little bit of everything. There isn’t anything he can’t do as a player.”
Bell, who is only 23, already has gained respect around the league for his skills, and former Pittsburgh great, Jerome Bettis, even feels he has a chance to one of the best to ever play the game. To Steelers fans, ranking fifth on this list is a disappointment, but it shouldn’t take anything away from Bell’s talents. More so, it could be an indication of the depth behind Bell, with backup DeAngelo Williams’ 32-year old legs being counted on to carry the load while Bell serves his suspension. Behind him is the lightning-fast but diminutive Dri Archer, who doesn’t exactly scream “20 carries a game.”
Sessler pointed out just how important Bell is to Pittsburgh, as evident from how different they looked without him in their playoff loss to Baltimore. When pressed with the question of whether Bell was as important to the team as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Wilson didn’t flinch.
“Absolutely,” he said, according to Sessler. “One-hundred percent.”