Come Hell or high water, Le’Veon Bell will be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2018 season. Whether it’s on the one-year franchise tag he will sign six days before the regular season begins or in the first year of a brand new and very expensive contract remains to be seen.
We know at least that he is going to be on the team, in other words, and that is great for this upcoming season and the team’s aspirations toward winning a Super Bowl. But questions remain about how his participation will take shape.
Bell himself recently suggested that he believes he will receive the same number of touches as he did a season ago—which was over 400—but that he was under the impression that the distribution of those snaps might change, skewing more in the direction of receptions. Perhaps a 1:3 ratio, or about a quarter of his touches being receptions.
Personally, this is an idea I have already advocated for in the past and one that I would support. I think that the Steelers can make even greater use of his skills as a wide receiver than they did during much of the last season. He showed in the playoff game the sort of weapon he can be in that aspect of the game.
I also think it would make sense to bring back some of the two-back sets that they dabbled in a few years ago with DeAngelo Williams on the field at the same time as Bell. Multiple backs could be used for this purpose depending upon the intention, and could create matchup advantages.
James Conner could get some carries this way, with Bell lining up as a receiver out of the slot—an option that might become particularly attractive if the tight end position remains an underachieving and ailing unit.
Jaylen Samuels could be the really intriguing option, however, because there is optimism about his ability to be used as a receiver as well. If you have two backs who are capable of executing in the passing game on the field at the same time, then you have two different players to account for at the same time who offer multiple skill sets. It’s that much harder to predict if it’s a run or a pass.
Here’s to hoping that new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has some creativity in him to get the most out of the running back group, and when I say that I also intend to include maximizing Bell’s efficacy by putting him in the best situations to excel.
A greater ratio in favor of receptions would also keep Bell healthier for later in the season, spending more time working against defensive backs along the perimeter and less against bulky defensive linemen up the middle.