Blast from the Past: Round 2 Part 3

Le'Veon Bell

AP Photo

You may have heard of the Steelers’ 2013 second round pick. Le’Veon Bell seems to have turned out all right, although he was given decidedly mixed reviews in the rush to judgment which naturally follows the draft each year. Most people thought the Steelers would take a running back there. Many people thought they would (or should) take a different one.

The first back to go was Giovani Bernard, snapped up by the Bengals at pick No. 37. But the choices of well-regarded backs left when the Steelers went on the clock were numerous:

  • Montee Ball (chosen by Denver at No. 58)
  • Eddie Lacy (taken at No. 61 by Green Bay)
  • Christine Michael (taken with the next pick by Seattle)

and so on. Altogether there were 24 backs taken in the draft. Here’s where they are at the moment, along with their draft round:

  • Still with the team who drafted them: Giovani Bernard, [2] Le’Veon Bell, [2] Eddie Lacy, [2] Christine Michael, [2] Knile Davis, [3] Denard Robinson, [5] Stepfan Taylor, [5] Chris Thompson, [5] Latavius Murray, [6] Andre Ellington [6] Mike James [6] Rex Burkhead, [6] Theo Riddick [6]
  • On a different team: Zac Stacy, [5] Mike Gillislee, [5] Kenjon Barner, [6] Spencer Ware, [6] Kerwynn Williams [7]
  • Currently a free agent: Montee Ball, [2] Joseph Randle, [5] Jawan Jamison, [7] Michael Cox [7]
  • Retired: Johnathan Franklin, [4] Suffered a severe neck injury in his first season and retired; Marcus Lattimore [4] retired after second season—waived injured

I’ll be honest—when I started looking the guys up I wouldn’t have guess that three-quarters of them would still be on an NFL roster, although this may change after the final cutdown to the 53-man roster in a month or so, especially for the guys who have changed teams before their rookie contract expired. The most interesting point to me is to look at the three guys whose names came up in relation to the Steelers: Ball, Lacy and Michael. Ball is currently out of football, Michael has underperformed, and only Lacy has been as productive as Bell in this draft class.

For what it is worth, here is how Pro Football Focus rated the top five backs taken in 2013 last season:

  • Le’Veon Bell: 94.0 [No. 1]
  • Eddie Lacy: 78.7 [No. 20]
  • Giovani Bernard: 76.7 [No. 24]
  • Christine Michael: 75.1 [not enough snaps to rank]
  • Montee Ball: Didn’t play

Not only was Bell ranked No. 1, it was by a long way. The next closest back was Doug Martin, who received a grade of 87.8. One could downgrade Bell for the games he’s missed due to injury (which Pro Football Reference does) but the injuries were football injuries, not conditioning injuries or injuries which could have been prevented by better preparation or better genetics. The only question, I suppose, is will Bell come back from the second injury like he did the first one—as good as new?

It’s easy to see now that Bell was a terrific pick, but it apparently wasn’t nearly so obvious back in 2013. Here’s some of the things being said by both the “experts” and the not-so-expert at the time:

Pete Prisco, CBS SportsApril 28 2013:

Questionable move: Taking Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round. I just think he takes too long to get to the line of scrimmage. He is more of a plodder.

Prisco will be wearing that one for a while.

Bucky Brooks, NFL.comApril 30, 2013:

Le’Veon Bell is a big back with quick feet and outstanding instincts. Additionally, he is a natural pass catcher with the receiving skills to play a prominent role in the pass game.

Brooks did a lot better than Prisco in analyzing Bell, but his grades for the AFC North had a couple of howlers such as this one:

BIGGEST STEAL I: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Baltimore Ravens, Round 2, No. 56 overall

The Ravens lost an iconic leader and disruptive playmaker in the middle when Ray Lewis decided to hang ’em up. While Brown lacks the loquaciousness of his predecessor, he certainly possesses the athleticism and instincts to match Lewis’ productivity as the designated playmaker in the middle. Brown thrived in that role at Kansas State. The rookie’s deployment behind a stellar front line (led by Haloti Ngata) should enhance his opportunity to make plays between the tackles.

While Brown is still on the Ravens’ roster he has never started a game, and his career totals are 17 tackles, 0.5 sacks (yes, a half,) and 1 forced fumble.

Chris Burke, SI.comApril 28, 2013:

Le’Veon Bell…fits this offense but may not have warranted pick 48.

Dan Snyder, Bleacher Report, April 30, 2016:

Bell is a big back, standing at 6’2″, 230 lbs., and that’s something the Steelers really like in their backs. But they have two other power backs currently sitting on their roster in Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.

More importantly, with almost all the running backs still on the board, Bell is a pretty sizable reach for the Steelers in the second round.

Bell did have great production in his time with the Spartans. He accumulated over 1,700 in 2012, his first as a full-time starter, and over 3,300 yards in three seasons in Lansing. But most impressively, Bell found the endzone 33 times in his career at Michigan State.

I was a little higher than most on Bell, but not as high as the Steelers apparently were. He would have been great value in the third, but I’d call him a stretch for sure at No. 48.

Pick Grade: C+

[DiTolla then gives the positives about Bell’s college record.]

Sometimes though, Le’Veon will get too “cutesy” near the line of scrimmage instead of taking the necessary yards, in a manner similar to Rashard Mendenhall.  In spite of his size, Bell’s somewhat upright running style could leave him at the mercy of linebackers and safeties looking to drop him.  Furthermore, I question whether or not the former Spartan is agile and fast enough to cut up field outside the tackle-box, and has enough explosiveness to elude and outrun oncoming defenders.  And while I’ll admit that Bell definitely possesses a reliable set of hands, his lack of speed could really limit him to only the screen and swing games at the pro level.

The Steelers took a keen interest in Bell before the draft…I guess that Le’Veon was the highest rated running back and player on the board for Pittsburgh’s brass at #48 overall, so I guess that I will have to take the usual “In Colbert & Co. I Trust” attitude towards this somewhat confusing pick.

Blake Meek, FansidedMay 30 2013:

2nd Round 48th Overall — Le’Veon Bell RB, Michigan State — C+

I like Le’Veon Bell a lot, but with better backs on the board this wasn’t a great pick. I think they could have gotten him a round later. He does catch the ball very well which will help him get some playing time.

Neal Coolong, Behind the Steel CurtainApril 27 2013:

What is there to say? Le’Veon Bell shredded weak competition, carried the ball a huge amount of times against weak competition and enters the NFL as a high mileage running back. He’s Beanie Wells.

There’s durability. Steelers second round pick, Le’Veon Bell, hauled the rock more than any other player in college football last year.

That’s his most eye-popping stat, and it’s a double-edged sword, at best. He carried the ball 382 times last year.

Three hundred and eighty two times. That’s a lot of carries.

I can’t decide whether it’s humor or irony that the Steelers would select the fourth best running back on the board at least one round too early, addressing a position that doesn’t have the same level of urgency as others, who seems eerily similar to former first round pick Beanie Wells.

And the Steelers visited with Wells this offseason, not offering him a contract, just letting the 27-year-old hobble away on elderly knees. We now know why; they can draft his clone in the second round.

They were the same size in college. Wells had one more year of productivity.

They both carried the ball so much in college, and the elder of the two was beaten to tar by the time he was 24, he was injured all the time and his old team didn’t want him any more.

No team seems to want him.

We measure Bell’s production as if it should be impressive. Should we not look at the carries he’s already logged, and the general lack of plays he made? His “big” junior year, he needed no less than 29 carries to top 100 yards.

Twenty nine.

Sure, he shredded Minnesota for 266 yards on 35 carries, and a nearly duplicate performance against something called Eastern Michigan. He had 45 yards on 17 carries against Ohio State. He had 68 yards on 26 carries against Michigan. The 77 yards on 21 carries he had against Wisconsin is equally impressive.

This is a second round pick?

Montee Ball was more productive. Christine Michael is clearly more talented than Ball and Bell, maybe combined. Didn’t want either of them. Didn’t need ’em.

The Steelers have an entire running back stable of Le’Veon Bells. It really doesn’t make sense why a grinding, high mileage back makes sense in the second round, but a team with a sterling track record of second round picks shouldn’t be questioned.

I have a great deal of respect for Neal, and he’s forgotten more about football than I will ever know. But he missed big time on this one. Clearly he wasn’t the only one, though.

The comments after the article were also fascinating, with some offering evidence in favor of the pick, such as this one:

What did the Steelers FO see in him ? I believe that Tomlin & Colbert saw a back similar to Jerome Bettis who could also spell a Mewelde Moore type of receiver out of the backfield. Watching him on tape Bell has the perfect running style for a zone blocking scheme, which the Steelers will be running. Add to that , the fact that Bell can make the “tough” yards and rarely loses yards in the backfield , you have the back you need to run a control type offense which will dominate the time of possession and keep our defense relatively fresh. Lacy , supposedly has a toe injury that attributed to his drop . Ball has way more mileage on him than Bell and has both concussions and fumble problems . It may have been to early for a 2nd round pic, but I feel Bell will become an integral and very good part of our offense.

And many against, such as this one:

Wow. Tough to see the Steelers really blow a #2 draft pick like that – a head scratcher.

Easily one of the worst picks by any team of the draft so far – value-to-spot. No justification for that with Ball or Lacy still on the board. Doesn’t matter how Colbert or Tomlin try to spin that one, they just……..effed up, for some strange reason.

And a final comment that perhaps sums this all up:

Prognostication is best left to Delphi.

I read somewhere that Kiper was 2-32 picking the first round of this year’s draft, and McShay was 1-32…I haven’t confirmed those numbers, but I would certainly take our front office against the ESPN team in talent evaluation

Or, as they say, hindsight is 20-20…

6 comments

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I remember Neal’s melt down on this topic. I think he was talked away from the cliff eventually, not by me because I tend to believe I don’t know enough on the topic to spend a lot of time arguing about it, but by folks at BTSC who were more astute when it came to football knowledge.

    Even when I am right about not liking a draft pick, I am usually wrong about why it wasn’t a great pick. i.e. Jarvis Jones whom I didn’t want because of his back issues. Turns out that wasn’t a problem and he isn’t a terrible pick but I have yet to meet anyone who thought he was a great pick.

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  • Toronto Steeler Fan

    It’s interesting to read these prognostications and try and understand what they missed. As I read them, they all seem to be looking at the player as he is and not what he could/will turn into in the NFL and in the Steelers’ system. From what we know of Bell’s progression so far and what I can read from these comments, I’m guessing that they missed (1) Bell’s work ethic (2) any consideration of his skills as a pass blocker, which he is VERY good at and (3) the fact that he was asked to (and now does) play at a much lighter weight than he did in college. One could reasonably expect the FO to have a much better handle on these things prior to the draft than us out here.

    I also find it curious that none of these people seemed to pick up on the one characteristic of Bell that stands out when he runs – his patience at the line of scrimmage to wait for the blocking to develop and his ability to use that better than anybody I’ve ever seen play. I’m wondering if this was evident in college. I find it hard to believe that he would suddenly develop this skill in his rookie season.

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    • I ran across several comments from people who watched MSU football, and said Bell was running behind the worst offensive line in the history of the sport, basically. Perhaps no one saw that because he realized there weren’t going to be any holes to wait for…

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      • Toronto Steeler Fan

        Fascinating (he said with one raised eyebrow). It is such a distinguishing characteristic of his game. It’s like we got that for free or something.

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  • HawaiianSteeler86

    At the time, I really liked the pick of Le’Veon Bell. I thought a big bruising back around 245 lbs. in the style of Jerome Bettis, that is what the Steelers needed! His family die hard Steeler fans to boot! Dwyer and Redman though adequate, did not present a threat to opposing defenses. His rookie year was good but injuries set him back a little.

    When I first saw him on the sidelines against Cleveland at the first game in his second season game weighing in a 225 lbs., I thought wow this guy looks nothing like Bettis. His performance in that game had me thinking could he be even better than #36? We finally have at least a top 3 running back. I hope he can return healthy and remain so for many years with the B&G.

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