Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert selected Le'Veon Bell with the 48th overall pick in last year's draft. The selection of the 6-foot-1, 244-pound back made sense as the Steelers were looking to find a feature back that could grind out yards and add some balance to an offense that has been tilted heavy toward the passing game.
In addition, the hope was that Bell could take some pressure off their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who is on the backside of his career. Big Ben has taken a step back in terms of the overall mobility he possessed early in his career and has struggled to maintain health throughout the past two seasons.
Bell's year did not get off to a strong start. He battled a knee injury early in training camp that kept him out of the preseason opener against the Giants. Bell returned for the second preseason game against Washington only to suffer a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot which kept him out until the fourth game of the regular season against Minnesota on Sept. 29.
Bell made his presence felt in his debut against the Vikings, rushing for 57 yards and two touchdowns while adding four receptions for 27 yards. Since then, he has been the workhorse for the Steelers as he has started in all eight of the games he's been active and now has 455 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 143 carries.
Reviewing the coaches' copy tape of Bell reveals a lot of positives traits he showed coming out of Michigan State. He is light on his feet for a 244-pound back with above-average lateral agility and short-area burst out cuts. While Bell has a bit of an upright running style he has excellent power and balance, and he does a nice job of dropping his pad level upon contact to fall forward and pick up yards after contact.
One area where Bell can improve as a runner is maintaining more discipline as an inside runner. He will occasionally be too quick to bounce runs outside and will miss a vertical crease on occasion. Overall though, he has shown adequate vision and patience as a runner. Bell has done a nice job of setting up and using his blocks and has flashed a natural feel for cutback lanes.
It also needs to be noted that the Steelers' offensive line has been decimated by injuries, have had a different starter at all five positions throughout the year and has struggled to find any type of continuity. Bell has not always had clean creases to run through and has often done a nice job of creating positive runs on his own.
What separates Bell from most big backs coming out of Michigan State was his versatility in the passing game as a receiver. Bell registered 78 career catches with the Spartans and has wasted little time making an impact as a pro in this area early on in his career. In fact, he has registered 26 catches for 256 yards through eight career games. Bell runs polished routes and has natural body control and hands. He is often flexed out essentially serving as a fourth or fifth receiver at times.
In addition, he is effective in the screen game and is a no-nonsense runner when getting into the open field after the catch making one cut and getting vertical to maximize his yards.
In terms of the big picture, Steelers fans have a lot to be excited about with Bell. If he maintains his health and assuming there is improvement along the offensive line, Bell's best football appears to be ahead of him. He looks to be the feature back Pittsburgh has been searching for.