Devil’s Advocate: Explosive Runs From Bell

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: Will Le’Veon Bell have more explosive runs in 2017?

While there is no disputing that Le’Veon Bell is a remarkable talent, there is also little argument when it comes to just what kind of runner he is. Or rather what kind he is not. Because he is not a burner. You are not going to mistake him for LeSean McCoy, for example, or David Johnson, players who can break off long touchdowns with regularity simply due to their speed.

Bell has virtually every other quality that you could possibly look for in a running back short of top-end speed. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t churn out the explosive plays, which was something that was oddly missing in his game last season.

Over 261 carries, Bell had just four explosive runs in 2016 during the regular season. 23 running backs in the league had more. Blake Bortles had four explosive runs. But this is not indicative of his capabilities. He had eight explosive runs on 290 carries in 2014. He matched that number on just 113 carries in 2015.

So is there reason for optimism that he can get back to seeing more explosive runs added back into his diet? Well, if you look to the postseason there is. Bell had three explosive runs during the team’s three playoff games in 2016 on just 65 carries.

It’s possible that he may have been lacking a bit of burst at the start of the year—or confidence, perhaps—getting back under that knee that he injured the year before. The improvement of the offensive line is also to be considered.

But now he is coming off a groin injury as well. How many injuries can he suffer before it has an impact on his explosiveness? And as defenses get a better grip on his running style, which has been an elusive endeavor, that could also limit his opportunities to break out into the open field.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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