For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers are sitting back and waiting for All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell to come along and show up for work. We all know about and are tired of hearing the backstory to this saga, so I’m not going to bore you with the boilerplate details.
When Bell does report, it will be shortly before the regular season begins, and one must wonder how he is going to look for the first several weeks that he is out there on the field. It was pretty evident that he got off to a slow start, and he himself even admitted that the lack of offseason work could have contributed to that.
Through the first three games of the 2017 season, Bell totaled just 180 rushing yards on 52 carries, averaging under 3.5 yards per carry. He was even less productive catching the ball out of the backfield. While he had 13 receptions, he gained just 56 yards on them, for an anemic 4.3 yards per catch. He scored one touchdown on the ground.
Pro Football Focus recently dug a bit deeper into that sluggish opening stanza for Bell, cautioning—I presume from a fantasy perspective—about what to expect about his production early on this season, anticipating that it will be a falloff from his typical statistics. I realize that the site’s grades don’t hold much water, but in their system, he graded up at 56.5 for the first three weeks,, and 74.9 for the rest of the season.
In more concrete terms, the site argues that he was clearly more successful in certain metrics. He only forced a missed tackle once every 10.4 rushing attempts during the first three games of last season, for example, but did so at a much better rate thereafter at 7.1 carries per missed tackle forced. He also raised his yards after contact per rush figure from 2.1 in the first three games to 2.6 thereafter.
Perhaps most striking is how much of a difference there was in the passing game. During the first three weeks of the year, Bell only averaged just .64 yards per route run, but that shot up to 1.46 yards per route run over the final 12 games that he played (since he rested in the finale). He also averaged a healthy 8.5 yards per reception over that span.
The question that Bell will have to answer this year is if he learned much from last season’s experiences, and if any of that can be used to allow himself to get off to a better start on the field than he did a year ago.
After all, he is pushing for the biggest contract ever given to a running back heading into the 2019 free agency period, so he has every motivation to do as best as he possibly can in what figures to be his final season with the Steelers.