In a move that surprised nobody, the Pittsburgh Steelers players yesterday voted to select fourth-year running back Le’Veon Bell as their Most Valuable Player on the roster for the 2016 season. It is the second time that he earned that distinction, also receiving the accolade from his peers in 2014 when he was a first-team All-Pro and established a new franchise record for yards from scrimmage.
One wonders what sort of damage he could have caused if Bell were actually granted the opportunity to play the full season, as he started the year serving a three-game suspension, and is expected to sit out the final game of the regular season, which has no playoff implications, limiting him to a 12-game campaign.
If his regular season is indeed over, then he can still hold his head up high about the numbers that he put up this year even for a complete season. In just 12 games, he amassed 1268 rushing yards on 261 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns. He added another 616 yards on 75 receptions with another two touchdowns.
Prorated over a full season, at the paces that he set—averaging 157 yards from scrimmage per game, among the highest totals ever—Bell would have put together a 2512-yard season, which would have broken Chris Johnson’s single-season record of 2509 yards from scrimmage set in 2009. Johnson ran for over 2000 yards that season.
What I find most interesting about Bell’s season is how skewed his production is from the first half of his playing time to the second half. While he got off on the right foot with 144 yards on the ground and 34 yards through the air in his season debut, he only rushed for at least 70 yards in one of his next five games.
Since then, his lowest rushing total for a game has been 93 yards, and he has averaged at least four yards per carry in every one of those games. Seven of his nine of his touchdowns have also come in the past six games, with the other two coming in the one game before it.
He did have a little better receiving numbers in the first half of his season, as he never reached 65 yards through the air in the past six games, something that he did three times in his first six. He had a season-low three receptions for 15 yards on Sunday, but one of those receptions was also his second receiving touchdown of the year.
As has pretty much been the case whenever he has been healthy, Le’Veon Bell is the straw that stirs the Steelers’ drink on the offensive side of the ball. He has touched the ball 336 times over a 12-game span, averaging 28 touches per game, which is comfortably a full third or so of all offensive plays in an average game.
And for the first time in his career, the Steelers will have Bell, their most crucial offensive weapon outside of the quarterback position, healthy and ready to go for the start of a postseason run. Imagine what damage they can do with their MVP this time around.