In the fourth game of the 2016 Steelers’ season, running back Le’Veon Bell returned from an injury sustained from the 2015 season and a suspension prior to the start of the 2016 season. Rust was expected, but Bell’s performance was the opposite; he rushed 18 times for 144 yards while also catching 5 passes for an additional 34 yards.
With the return of Bell and a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most dangerous offenses in the league once again. Ben Roethlisberger’s greatness is obvious, as is the greatness Le’Veon Bell possesses, but Bell’s skill set to accommodate at the receiver position is huge at a time where Pittsburgh’s receivers are either injured or suspended.
In 8 games this season, Bell has rushed for 699 yards on 151 carries (4.6 YPC) for 3 touchdowns. On the receiving side, Bell has 57 catches for 437 yards in a total, giving him a total of 1,136 yards from scrimmage. That’s currently 6th in the league, all despite missing 3 games to start the season. He also leads in yards per scrimmage per game at 142.0.
It seems to indicate the kind of quality we’ve come to expect from Bell as a back, and immediately he returned to the field with a bang. In terms of style and technique, Le’Veon Bell is by far the best running back in the league.
Bell, Ezekiel Elliot, and David Johnson are often the three names you hear when “best running back” comes to mind (or at least based on this season). Elliot and Johnson are both great, young players that get the most out of their opportunities and make their casts better, but don’t do as much as Bell does. Johnson has a lot of designed plays where the blocking is generally good, and Elliot’s offensive line does create plenty of easy runs.
With Bell, it’s on him to create space. He’s able to create running lanes based on his skill set, and his most recognizable skill is by far his patience.
Most running backs run without stopping, either up the hole or by eluding tacklers. Bell does that but plays his football in another direction, offering a more cautious, observant approach. His vision is extremely well rounded, so he’s able to survey the field and create openings on his own without being too hesitant.
In this GIF, Bell makes an abundant amount of cuts to complete a hard fought 8-yard run. What you’ll notice from watching Bell is how he’ll plant his feet before the line of scrimmage, buying himself some time in the backfield like a quarterback in the pocket. Defenders in good position are thus faked out, creating areas for Bell to run through.
A normal running back would likely get 3 yards at best on this play, but Bell’s footwork is terrific. He’ll bounce around a lot with his feet, making jump cuts or surveying the field before springing forward once he finds a lane to run through. On this play, #26 uses his trademark patience to avoid tacklers (the last cut before the first down marker especially being impressive) to grab a first down on an otherwordly run.
On this first down run, Bell looks like he’s power walking more than he’s running. Because of his patience, a lane is able to open up on he’s right, and he makes a quick cut outside for the first down.
This run didn’t count because of a holding call, but it is still very impressive nonetheless. After running past the first down marker, Bell makes an inside jump cut before quickly adjusting his body (and I mean quickly, not just because the GIF is sped up) for an outside cut and a huge gain. If not for the shoestring tackle at the end, it would’ve gone even further.
As well as being a great running back, Bell is also a great receiving back. His hesitation and great jump cuts allow him to be a skilled route runner. In the first GIF, Bell does a jab, faking out the defensive back guarding him and allowing Ben to throw him open for the first down.
It’s the creativity during the routes that catch the eye; you don’t know what you’re going to get from Bell. He could stutter step or hop in the air like in this 2nd GIF. In this, Bell gets open by hopping, then faking out the defensive back by jabbing to get himself open for a decent gain.
Despite his slower, more hesitant style of play, Bell can make quick decisions on the fly. On this huge run, Bell, beyond all the really nice cuts, shows off his awareness. He understands what angle he has to take, when he has to cut, and where to run. Downfield he gets a block, and wisely elects to go behind his lineman, allowing him to cut for a few more yards once the defender he cut across gets an angle on him.
This type of play is not spectacular, but shows that Bell is not too cautious in regards to his running style.
Le’Veon Bell is one of those rare players where you not only watch every snap he gets at running back, but also what he does with it. You wonder how he gets those yards, even if it’s for very few. He is that special kind of player. His movement, patience, and excellent footwork create a crafty, intoxicating style of running that takes itself very seriously. Bell works best up the middle, but can be used anywhere and he’d still be explosive.
The Steelers are a very well coached team, and have used Bell’s skills perfectly. Like his teammate Antonio Brown, he’s a dangerous weapon that many try to contain but very few ever manage to accomplish. The creativity and originality of Bell’s running style makes him a joy to watch, even if you root for another AFC North team like I am. He’s the kind of guy that brings the flavor and another dimension the Steelers offense desperately needs, and can create running lanes and gaps all on his own.
That, in conclusion, is why Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the league.