Though the last snap of the 2016 NFL Season has been played, the 24/7 – 365 nature of the National Football League never stops. With the driest spell of the football calendar approaching, football pundits all over the country are looking for substance to bridge them over to the NFL Draft. Mock drafts and draft profiles make up the present and future agenda but a void is left for past evaluations. While many experts break down incoming prospects, it would be interesting to see how previous draft selections have performed compared to their pre-draft evaluations.
First up is none other than the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers MVP – Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers’ back capped off his most impressive season last year, totaling 1884 yards of offense in just 12 games. Before all the MVP discussion and accolades, Bell was a 237-pound running back from Michigan State. At almost 240-pounds, Bell was a lot heavier than the 210-215 pound range he came into the 2016 season at. Projected to go sometime during Day 2 of the 2013 NFL Draft, here is how Bell graded out in the eyes of the media.
The first excerpt is from the Walter Football staff, who listed Bell seventh in their ranking of the top draft eligible running backs. In hindsight, that can seem shocking, possibly because some may have a hard time naming six other backs taken during the 2013 Draft. Here are the backs listed ahead of Bell and how they have matched up statistically.
Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy is perhaps the only back listed who is within reach of matching Bell statistically and even then, Bell is still quite ahead. Excluding Lacy, the other five backs have found themselves overlapped by the production of Bell. Even with missed time from suspension and injury, Bell has racked up 47 starts while the backfield of Bernard, Franklin, Michael, Ball and Ellington have a combined 40.
In Walter Football’s analysis of Bell, they offered a few interesting bits. The first dated from April 23rd 2013, includes this: “The concern with Bell is if he has enough quickness to hit the hole in the NFL.” The second is from August 16th 2012, prior to Bell’s last season with Michigan State. The update begins with “Bell is a massive back who could move to fullback in the NFL.” Once again in hindsight, Bell becoming a fullback is a rather far-fetched reality to think about, but in fairness to Walter Football, this was most likely a prediction made due to Bell’s 244-pound frame at the time.
The NFL.com pre-draft profile of Bell is another entertaining read for their analysis of the then 21-year old back. The profile praises Bell’s light feet and strength and even mentions his ability to jump over defenders, something Steelers’ fan have had the chance of seeing numerous times over Bell’s career.
Surpassing Bell’s strengths, the analysis of Bell’s NFL.com profile snowballs with momentum as you scroll down. Here is an excerpt from Bell’s weaknesses paragraph, “Sub par vision prevents him from seeing cut back lines and sees him running up the back of his lead blocker too often.”
Approaching the finish, Bell’s bottom line of his NFL.com profile reads “Can make people miss at any level of the field, but doesn’t have very good vision.”
Though those statements made seem a bit out of left field considering the body of work Bell has put up since being drafted, perhaps there is some truth behind it. Bell is not the same running back now as he was coming out of college. One look at Bell’s rookie season and you will notice an outlying 3.5 yards per carry, a full yard off his career average of 4.5 yards per carry. Bell found his identity as a rusher sometime between his rookie and sophomore season, and by doing so, Bell has turned himself into one of the most complete backs in the game.