NFL.com has been running a series of articles over the past few weeks, looking at the top 25 young players they believe are primed to break out and have a big season in 2014. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell came in fourth on that list.
It’s hardly a surprise to see Bell’s name on this list. He was immediately pegged as the starting running back for the Steelers last year as a rookie, but injuries kept him out of much of training camp and virtually all of the preseason.
The foot injury that he suffered on one of his few snaps during the preseason lingered, and resulted in him missing the first three games of the season. He didn’t make his NFL debut until Week Four, during which he turned in a two-touchdown performance.
Dan Hanzus writes:
Bell’s abilities jump out at you on tape. He’s a sleek, powerful runner with quick feet, special cutting ability and good vision. He routinely turned 1-yard losses into 7-yard gains. His confidence built as the season wore on: He averaged 4.0 yards per carry in his final five games after averaging 3.2 yards in his first eight games.
The last bit of information is certainly true, telling of a young player who was forced to learn on the job because of all of the crucial time that he missed late in the offseason and into the regular season.
He was forced to feel his way into the professional ranks against experienced players without the benefit of a preseason, and as a result, he could be seen at times being timid in some of his earlier games. The foot injury, of course, was also still a factor.
Hanzus believes that Bell is a complete player, as a runner, receiver, and blocker. He points to his first career touchdown as a display of his vision, intelligence, and athleticism, and believes his varied skill set will keep him on the field for all three downs.
That is, of course, when he is not being spotted by LeGarrette Blount, the Steelers’ bruising new second fiddle at running back.
Both Bell and Blount have frequently expressed admiration for one another, as well as an eagerness to work together and share the load. They already share a belief that they deserve to be considered as a top five running back tandem in the league.
Hanzus concludes his article with a prediction:
Even with Blount getting his share, Bell will be a major centerpiece of Pittsburgh’s offense in ’14. We expect him to clear 300 touches. He could exceed that benchmark easily. A healthy Bell can clear 1,300 rushing yards, 70 receptions and 12 total touchdowns.
That’s star production from a potentially special player.
Those numbers are certainly doable if the Steelers are more balanced in their offensive attack than they were last season, which has been the suggestion throughout interviews with various players and coaches thus far this offseason.