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Devil’s Advocate: Regarding Rookies Best In The Game

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Is it possible to reasonably regard a player as the best in the league, or at his position, after just one season?

This is the question that we find ourselves asking today after the conclusion of the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2017 last night, in which Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was voted eighth on the list, and with the top running back spot, one spot overall ahead of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.

Elliott, a 2016 top-five draft pick, certainly had a rookie season to remember. On 322 rushing attempts, the Ohio State product with a proclivity toward wearing half-shirts led the league with 1631 yards at a very healthy 5.1 yards per carry.

Those numbers are better than any that Bell has put up yet in his four seasons, although he has only played a 16-game season once so far. Elliott’s 15 rushing touchdowns far eclipse Bell’s career best of eight.

He also did catch 32 passes for 363 yards and another touchdown as a pass-catcher, and is also regarded as a strong pass protector. But while he may be trending that way, he is not yet the complete player that Bell is.

I don’t think I have to regurgitate his statistics in order to make the point, but Bell is essentially both a running back and a wide receiver. He does more than any other running back in the league, as evidence by the percentage of snaps that he plays.

But this question goes beyond just Elliott and Bell. Is it possible for a player to be so incredibly dominant during his rookie season that he has to be regarded as the best? The best case for that would be Lawrence Taylor, who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in his rookie season. But is longevity a requirement?

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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