Thanks for reading Scouting with the Madman. If you’re new to the series, read this post for an intro to the series.
Now onto the scouting!
Patience. That’s the word that comes up in almost every conversation about Le’Veon Bell on the field. Everyone can see it on Sunday’s but no one can replicate it. Bell frequently pauses behind the line of scrimmage while waiting for a hole to open up and he is lauded for his ability to wait, hit the hole, and gain positive yardage. So let’s get that part of the film out of the way now.
The keys to Bell’s patience are his vision and his lightning fast first steps when he picks a hole. In these clips, pay attention to a few things:
- Bell is always on his toes, shuffling his feet. This allows him to be ready to hit the hole the instant it opens up.
- Bell is a master at manipulating the defense. Watch how he presses close to the offensive line. It almost looks like he’s going to hit the hole before he just continues shuffling to the side. This forces defenders to commit to a hole and opens up the field for Bell.
- How fast Bell gets going after two steps. He goes from 0-60 faster than any running back I’ve scouted to this point.
It really is amazing. Bell comes to a full jump stop as soon as he gets the handoff, shuffles to his right, presses behind #74, waits for #29 to drift inside and finally finishes with power over Tony Jefferson.
Patience aside, Bell goes from 0-60 faster than anyone, even though his top speed is unimpressive compared to the other superstar running backs I’ve scouted. He moves so deliberately and unpredictably, both in the open field and behind the line of scrimmage. He is incredibly difficult to tackle in the open field, combining strength and power with elite elusiveness in small jukes, high steps, and massive jump cuts that leave defenders grasping at air. He reminds me of Alvin Kamara in the small ways that he keeps defenders off-balance with subtle steps and leaning his upper body:
My personal favorite Bell run came against the Chiefs in 2016. Watch how he weaves through the defense and jukes Eric Berry out of his socks:
He is also as polished of a receiver as any running back in the league. He can split out wide or into the slot. His footwork on his routes is outstanding, he has great natural ball skills, and he is deadly after the catch.
That’s an outstanding slant route to gain inside leverage, make the catch and break two tackles going into the end zone. There are plenty of wide receivers who can’t make that play. One more clip that shows all he can do:
The juke on #57, the terrible angles taken by three defenders, and finally he stiff arms Dre Kirkpatrick so hard that he bounces back to his feet.
He is truly a transcendent running back.
We also know that the Steelers have one of the best Offensive Lines in the league; both James Conner and Jaylen Samuels had great success running behind it in 2018. And we know that Le’veon Bell has a ton of career touches, an iffy injury history, and just took a year off due to a contract dispute. I also scoured the tape for plays that were blocked poorly in an attempt to project how Bell might look behind a worse Offensive Line.
What I saw gave me confidence for real football, but pause for fantasy football. Bell has the perfect combination of vision, power, and quick feet that he is able to consistently gain yardage on runs. In fact, in 2016 Bell only lost yardage on 5% of his carries which was the lowest percentage in the league according to Pro Football Focus. This is greatly supported by the film. Given Bell’s reputation as a patient runner, he is actually very willing to hit the hole quickly when it’s the right decision to keep the offense on schedule:
Now as great as this is for real football, my concern in fantasy purely has to do with Bell’s lack of elite speed. Bell’s top gear is nowhere close to Barkley, Elliott, or even David Johnson and that greatly limits his potential for big plays. That makes his consistent 5-15 yard gains extremely important for fantasy. I do my best not to speculate in these profiles, but it is difficult not to with Bell given his year off. All I will say is that if Bell loses just a half-step of burst, those 5-15 yard chunk plays could easily become 3 or 4 yards.
He has also benefited from a huge workload, a prolific Steelers offense, and an Offensive Line that fits with his running style. Bell’s tape from 2017 is absolutely phenomenal and would potentially vault him to the top of my True Talent Rankings, but I am worried about a small decline and his ability to fit with a new team.
Overall, Bell is an incredibly unique and talented runner. He just runs differently from anyone else I have watched and makes great use of his relatively limited (compared to Barkley and Elliott) physical skills. He is the final RB in my study of the superstars that will serve as a reference for the less proven backs and I will be scouring the film for anyone who has hints of his style (Joe Mixon?).