Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – RB Le’Veon Bell

By Matthew Marczi

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)

Snaps: 691

Starts: 13

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.

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers 2013 Draft Class Review – LB Jarvis Jones

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.


    If he stays healthy for the full 16 games, (and hopefully not too many injuries to the men up front) I see Bell getting 1500-2000 yards from scrimmage in 2014.

  • cp72

    I have to admit I was disappointed when we took Bell over Lacy. I can also admit when I am wrong. Bell has legit 1700 to 1800 total yard potential. I think he is in the pro bowl next year.

    I know we are not big l players in free agency, but I am pushing for adding Dexter McCluster. Resign Dwyer, add McCluster, Bell keeps developing, now that’s a backfield. McCluster is an excellent receiver and pro bowl returner. He could be what the Steelers thought Chris Rainey was going to be. Haley drafted McCluster so he obviously likes what he brings to the table.

  • srdan

    He is a complete player. Every attribute is above average but what makes him special is his patience. He waits for the designed hole and then explodes through it. The other thing that makes him special is he is one of those rare running backs that does not take many punishing hits and almost always fall sforward.

    I am really excited about the upcoming seasons to watch him grow.

  • steeltown

    Very very good football player, he does it all

  • Brandon James

    I was one that actually enjoyed the pick, but lets be honest no one would know what to think of the decision until the end of the season, and the ceiling for this young man is so high.

  • srdan

    I havent been this excited for a rookie following his first season since Kendrell Bell.

  • Callentown

    I keep hearing Steeler fans suggest that we can get McCluster from the Chiefs. First, he is a WR, not a RB, but has versatility for sure!

    Second, why would the Chiefs allow their Pro Bowl special teams player to leave? Andy Reid LOVES guys like Dexter.

    Am I missing something?

  • Callentown

    OKAY SO HERE’S THE QUESTION we all have somewhere in the back of our minds: After one season, would we rather have Bell or Lacy??

    Both had great years, both missed games due to injury. GB had a better O-line, but also had their QB get injured.

    Lacy will be the Rookie of the year and is in the Pro Bowl. Bell is for sure the real deal and seems the better receiver.

    What do you think??

  • srdan

    I look at this similar to a what we have at ILB. We have Williams who runs down hill and hits, and we have Garvin who covers. Lacy falls in that category, a two down player. For certain situations he has to come off the field. Which limits your offense, especially if you want to run hurry up. On the other hand, Bell shouldn’t come off the field. No matter what we do next year, even if we get Dexter, Bell will still be the best 3rd down option on the team. Therefore, in todays NFL I rank Bell over Lacy.

    7-10 years ago, due to the offenses(control TOP) that were prevalent, I would have ranked Lacy over bell.

  • Brandon James

    Well said.

  • cp72

    Dexter had a 100 carries one year when Charles got hurt. He also had 1000 yards rushing his senior at Ole Miss….that’s the SEC brother. Not saying he’s Walter Peyton, but he is more than just a receiver.

    He may not get out of KC. I am just saying if he’s out there take a run at him. He is a Swiss Army knife. He can play running back, return kicks, and work out of the slot. That gives you a lot of flexibility on the 53 man roster. As far as the money goes you can pay 3 guys 3 million a year or you can pay Dexter 3 million per year.

  • cencalsteeler

    I’d agree with you to a point. Many have stated during the season he should be the third down back, but this is where I disagree. Because of his style you mention (patience waiting for his hole to develop), he should not be our third and short guy. This is his ONLY weakness and that is actually ok. Develop Dwyer as our short yardage guy (add ten pounds but keep the waistline from expanding). And, I’ve been barking this all season- implement Heyward in the backfield on short yardage situations as well! Run Will Johnson in motion, he will be the primary lead blocker. Then, you have Heyward lead block for Dwyer. Those three and any combination should get the chains moving on third and shorts. Give Bell a rest and get him ready for the new set of downs.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I also think over the next year or so it will swing toward Bell also. His upside still as a runner and his tremendous upside catching the ball.

    Barring an injury, I could easily see 12 to 1400 yards rushing, 12 plus td’s and 60 plus catches for another five hundred or so yards.

    Lacy has been banged up a little also, so I will be curious to watch his injury history as he will probably get even more carries next year.

  • srdan

    I think a lot of us mention him by name, but more than anything we mean the role.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    For our offense, specifically- Bell. Within NFL (Goodell) trending rules- Bell. For longevity of career- Bell. All for the obvious reason; Bell uses his legs and arms, not head. Big advantage.

  • DrakePirate

    Yup, those are easy numbers if he stays healthy … I see a 1200 yd rushing and 500 Receiving season next year for a total of 1700 yd .. granted he stays healthy and our OL isn’t a total disaster again !

  • DrakePirate

    What do u think about Dri Archer as a late round pick … he is a RB from Kent St. and in the mold of Tavon Austin … small, super fast and actually pretty strong and can run the ball between the tackles for his size … great vision

  • DrakePirate

    I think it was pretty clear … at least to me , i knew what the kid had after one game … his skill set was pretty evident !

  • DrakePirate

    what u think about Dri Archer … late round pick … he is a RB but plays all positions and solves our KR issues as well … i know he is small but plays bigger and i think durability wouldn’t be an issue !

  • DrakePirate

    Lacy had a great year … but i do not trust him … he looked so big in the preseason, i could see him eating his way out of the league in 4-5 yrs and i think Bell is a much more well rounded back !

  • Callentown

    Good points cp72. For the record, as a Gator fan for a loooooong time, I’m all about the SEC 🙂

    My main point is that I don’t see any reports that KC is going to let Dexter leave. He’s a FA, but he’s an Andy Reid type of guy.

    Sure he’d be a great fit. So would Calvin Johnson. You see what I’m saying?

  • Callentown

    My only question would be regarding his production against Div. 1 schools. I haven’t seen him much other than highlights, but at Kent St. you have to wonder a little.

    Otherwise, I believe that is the direction the team will ultimately go – drafting someone in the middle to later rounds.

  • cp72

    I will interested to see what he runs. At his size you better be a 4.35-4.45 guy. In the MAC you can run 4.5-4.6 and look fast. I like his skill set though.

  • DrakePirate

    all I’ve seen are the highlights … but speed is speed .. he’s every bit the playmaker Tavon Austin is and remarkably a bit faster … the best thing i think he has going for him is his vision … he weaves in and out and like great players is looking to make the cut/move for the next 2-3 guys ahead of him beyond … he is so small he actually works well between the tackles … would be a great upgrade for our KR if nothing else !

  • DrakePirate

    watch him on film … he’s definitely not a 4.5 guy … he’s every bit a 4.2/4.3 guy and on the field i can confidently say easily faster than McCluster or Sproles … the worst he will run at the combine is maybe 4.35 … but like i said he’s got football speed … even faster on the field !

  • Matthew Marczi

    For what it’s worth, Bell converted 11 of 16 first downs on 3rd or fourth and three or less, averaging 4.56 yards per carry on those attempts. Dywer converted 9 of 13 at 3.31 yards per carry.

  • cencalsteeler

    Interesting. Those numbers are surprising.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’d be lying if I said they didn’t surprise me at first as well.

  • Brandon James

    Yea agreed, but we cant dispute that the production of lacy was amazing through the first 8-10 weeks. He looked like the better pick for the time being, but that has a lot to do with the line and early injuries.

  • Patrick Reid

    I would love to draft DAT from Oregon or Archer from Kent State(5-6). They both run in the 4.3’s. Also, unlike Reggie Dunn the can both return kicks, line up at receiver and in the backfield. Excellent change of pace backs. If we don’t resign JD, Antonio Andrews from WKU is a potential upgrade. He to can be had late. Seems like a really good, complete RB. Of course I would love McCluster for obvious reasons. Just at what price considering that we are cash strapped as it is.

  • DrakePirate

    yup the OL and injuries played a huge part in his low per carry average

  • charles

    Lacy improved as the year went, a very good sign.
    But, Bell is Haley’s kind of back because he has good hands and is really dangerous coming out of the backfield on ANY down. No linebacker in the league can cover him.