How Running Backs With Similar Workloads As Le’Veon Bell Have Finished The Season

Another year and another season in which the Pittsburgh Steelers have relied heavily on the legs of running back Le’Veon Bell. For only the second time in his career, Bell has been available for every game during the Steelers’ first half of their schedule. Bell’s presence has led to the Steelers using their running back at a historic rate.

Only six running backs in NFL history have had more touches through the first eight games than Bell’s 229 total touches this season. With a staggering 229 touches through the season’s first half, Bell also becomes the twelfth occasion in which a running back has exceeded 225 touches in the season’s first half.

Bell joins DeMarco Murray as the only running back to exceed 225 touches since 2006 when Larry Johnson did so. While all the running backs listed were certainly skilled at their trade, anytime you exceed over 225 touches, the question of durability is raised. In Bell’s case, this is the 12-million-dollar question that has followed him since the end of last season. But now with another 229 touches in just a half season’s worth of work, is there a cause for concern of Bell declining down the stretch?

Using the other 11 occasions in which a running back has exceeded 225 touches in just eight games, perhaps history can give us an educated guess on what the Steelers can expect from Bell down the stretch.

Above are how those 11 other occasions played out over the season’s last half and there are more than a few conclusions that can be drawn from the data.

Health is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to a high workload for a running back and the data speaks favorably about Bell’s chances of staying healthy down the stretch. Seven of the 11 running backs managed to play the entire second half of their season with Ricky Williams (2002) being the only back to miss more than two contests. In total, the running backs listed played 78 out of a possible 88 games over the final stretch.

Perhaps a key component that helped these running backs stay healthy is the amount of rushing attempts in the second half compared to the first half. Johnson and James Wilder (1984) were the only running backs to accumulate more second half rushing attempts than first half rushing attempts as majority of the running backs saw a less stressful workload over the second half.

With health on his side, the next and perhaps most important factor as it relates to the Steelers’ success is Bell’s production. With 7674 total rushing yards in the 78 combined games, the selected running backs averaged just under 100 yards rushing per game (98.4) in the final half. This would be about ten yards fewer than the combined first half average of 107.4 rushing yards per game that Bell and company have produced.

On a per carry basis, five running backs managed to improve their yards per attempt figure over the last half of the season. And while this number may not seem favorable, there are good odds that Bell can be the sixth running back to improve in the second half. Bell has only gotten better down the stretch over his career, averaging over 100 yards rushing per game and over 4.5 yards per carry in December, his highest monthly figure.

While on paper, it seems that despite his almost record-breaking workload, Bell has both health and production on his side, the past is never a guarantee for what may lay ahead. But should Bell suit up and perform to the expected standards over the season’s final half, the running back will have once again silenced any questions over his workload.

About the Author

Daniel Valente
Steelers fan from birth, spending majority of my free time looking up statistics. Had the honor of meeting Mike Vanderjagt shortly after his infamous missed field goal in the 2005 Divisional Round. Currently pursuing a Journalism degree. Follow me on Twitter @StatsGuyDaniel
  • falconsaftey43

    nice study

  • PaeperCup

    “touches”…is that just carries or receptions too? A few of those guys on that list were not known for their pass catching, so I might assume they had way more carries.

    Larry Johnson…whatever happen to that guy. Thought he was gonna be a beast.

  • nutty32

    Hard to ignore that Bell has been in the shop come playoff time, tho. He killed it against the Fins, but m.i.a. otherwise.

  • nutty32

    Concussion issues + turd personality; both issues may or may not be linked.

  • LucasY59

    I think this seasons workload will affect him more in future seasons than it will this season (and hopefully not in the post season like it has in previous yrs)

    iirc Demarco Murry had a significant drop in production following his big season a few yrs ago, part of that was due to switching systems and no fitting in Chip Kelly’s scheme, but another was that Jerry wasnt willing to pay him big $ (after a season where he was worked hard) due to concerns he would drop off after the high workload

    which brings me to a slightly different topic which is I dont think the Steelers should give Bell a long term contract after this season, I expect them to tag him again, but unless his asking price drops significantly I dont see him with the team after 2018-19, and even with the tag I wouldnt use the exclusive, since possibly getting two 1st rd picks from another team signing him away off the tag would be good return (and since I already stated I dont think he will be with the team much longer getting those picks might be the best scenario)

  • #beatthepats

    I hope he kills it in the second half, but i dont undeestand the ” run the wheels off him”strategy, his ypc are down .

  • Charles Mullins

    Just read his wiki and found out that he played for the bungles… Fun fact that I do not remember at all.

  • J.

    Bleaker is the long term effects on what happens the following season.

  • Chris92021

    He also killed it against KC as well.

  • dany

    Yeah, two huge games out of 3 played, that’s faar from mia

  • gdeuce

    that drop in production was entirely with the eagles using him the wrong way, look at his first year with the Titans

  • jsteeler

    Great read & stats. Keep up the Awesome work!

  • razaard2

    Bell isn’t a ypc running back. He is a chain mover. No one is better than him at avoiding losses and getting tough first downs to keep drives alive, that’s why the Steelers always win when he runs a lot.
    But ypc numbers are higher for explosive players, the guys that break 70 yards run once in a while to skew the numbers. Bell has below average top speed and rarely break big runs, so his ypc is limited by that