It has been a theme for many years that, aside from the occasional special teams contributions, rookies on the Pittsburgh Steelers, including even first-round draft picks, rarely contribute during their first season. That has been especially true over the years on defense, though less so on offense.
That pattern changed somewhat in 2013 due to a variety of circumstances, both foreseen and unforeseen, as many rookies—even undrafted players—got a good chunk of playing time on both sides of the ball. Therefore, there’s more to go on than usual when speaking about how their rookie seasons went.
Player: Le’Veon Bell
Draft Status: 2nd round (48th overall)
After five seasons of Rashard Mendenhall at running back—two of which involving a rather limited role due to injuries—the Steelers allowed him to walk in free agency for a fairly modest one-year salary, instead opting to seek their long-term replacement for Mendenhall in the 2013 draft.
After selecting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round, they turned their attention to the offense, selecting running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round as a back that they envisioned best fitting their long-term plans for an offensive weapon as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield.
Like Jones, early reports on Bell were not far short of glowing, but by the time training camp rolled around, he suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the preseason opener. When he did finally see action, he injured his foot, a situation that kept him out of the first three games of the regular season.
As a result, Bell missed so much of the early portion of his playing career that he spent much of the year on a learning curve, figuring out how to be an NFL running back on the job. It showed in his NFL debut against the Minnesota Vikings when he carried 16 times for 57 yards, though his impressive touchdown run made up for much of that.
He had just 34 yards on 16 carries the following week against the New York Jets in which nobody on the team looked good in the running game. The Jets defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage.
Bell had somewhat of an awakening the following week, as he took advantage of a shaky Baltimore Ravens defense for 93 yards on 13 carries. The 4.9 yards per carry figure was the highest of his rookie season.
While he was a workhorse throughout the year, his yards per carry remained low, particularly against some stout defensive fronts, such as the Buffalo Bills and the Detroit Lions. Still, he managed to have success in the passing game. In one three-week span, including against the aforementioned teams, he caught 11 passes for 156 yards.
The running game began to take shape late in the season, as Bell managed to average more than four yards per carry in four of the last five games. The one game that failed to reach that plateau included a five-reception, 50-yard performance in the receiving game.
Over the last two games of the year, Bell carried 46 times for a total of 214 yards and two touchdowns, though he also had his one lone fumble. He finished the year scoring in four of the last five games.
Bell carried the ball at least 20 times in five games during his rookie year. The Steelers won all five of those games. With close to 300 touches in 13 games, it’s clear that he is already an instrumental part of this offense, having broken Franco Harris’ rookie record for yards from scrimmage. His role should only expand in his second year.
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