I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: Le’Veon Bell will post better numbers in 2018 than he did in 2017.
Running backs do not generally get better as they age, but it’s not as though Le’Veon Bell is really an old running back. Entering his sixth season in the NFL in 2018, Bell will play the year at the ripe old age of 26, having turned said age just over two months ago in February.
Bell is for the first time since his rookie season not rehabilitating a knee or groin injury during the offseason, and that is a big change of pace from the norm. He averaged 129.8 yards per game over 15 games last season, including 86.1 rushing yards (which matches exactly his career average) and 43.7 receiving yards (slightly above that average).
While those numbers were largely retrieved through acts of attrition—or rather repetition), the fact that he is fully healthy and has experience navigating the offseason away from the team now will I think put him in better position to get an early jump on the season and avoid a sluggish start. He will also have learned how better to train himself away from the team from the trial and error of a year ago.
But at the end of the day, Bell is coming off a season, regardless of health, during which he put a lot of tread on his tires. While he may still be young, it’s difficult for running backs of any age to put up back-to-back season with extreme workloads without seeing that affect their game.
Bell put up over 400 touches last season, which is now rare in the NFL. The fact that he is able to divest that substantially into receptions rather than rushes may help some, but the fact remains that his body took a beating.
It’s not unreasonable to believe that Bell has already played the best football of his career. Considering how exceptional that has already been, it’s not exactly a criticism, but it’s not the ideal state for the Steelers in 2018 as they quest for a Super Bowl, likely in their final season with the running back in Pittsburgh.