If you go back to the 2013 NFL Draft, Mike Mayock had Montee Ball rated more highly than the big back coming out of Michigan State, Le’Veon Bell, who was eventually taken as the second running back in the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three years later, he has ‘come to his senses’ so to speak. Yesterday, while on air with the NFL Network covering the Combine, the veteran draft analyst was asked who is the best running back in football right now, and his answer was Le’Veon Bell, who set the franchise record for yards from scrimmage in 2014.
Calling him “the prototype in the NFL right now for the all-around back”, Mayock went on to describe the variety of qualities that he sees in Bell’s game that puts him a notch above the rest of the running backs in the league today, even if he was limited to just six games in 2015.
The first thing that he pointed out was Bell’s vision, which, in concert with the patience in his running style, is perhaps his greatest asset as a runner, which allows him to find running lanes that are either not immediately obviously or immediately available.
As a football mind, he does a tremendous job of seeing and interpreting the field in real time, predicting the flow of the offense and the defense and where the hole is likely to develop. At the same time, he works in harmony with his offensive linemen to set these running lanes up.
Mayock, of course, then talked about just that, Bell’s patience, and then added that his athleticism and strength as a runner is what allows him to utilize that vision and patience. “Now when you hit it can you run through the arm tackle of the man much bigger than you and accelerate again down the sideline” is what he said he looks for in a runner, and Bell checks that box.
As he also pointed out, “they run wide receiver routes with him”, which is a rare quality in a true every-down running back in today’s league. Of course running backs go out for passes fairly routinely in passing situations, and line up outside as well, but few actually have a legitimately developed route tree the way that Bell has.
In 2014, Bell carried the ball 290 times for 1361 yards, but he also added another 854 yards on 83 receptions, which are rare numbers for a running back. His combined 2215 yards of offense and 11 total touchdowns were proof positive of the fact that he became the straw that stirred the Steelers’ drink in 2014.
After serving a two-game suspension to start the 2015 season, Bell returned to a team without their quarterback, and it was put on his shoulders to carry the team. And he really did. In just six games—less than that given his injury in the sixth—he carried the ball 113 times for 556 yards and three touchdowns, adding another 136 yards through the air.