Le’Veon Bell entered the season on my watch list as a possible riser at the running back position. The tall, powerful back had a solid season with the Spartans last year as he racked up 948 yards rushing at 5.2 yards per carry and 13 rushing touchdowns.
Bell is off to a red hot start to the 2012 season with 280 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the first two games, including a dominant 210 yard performance against Boise State.
Hype is beginning to grow for Bell and there are even murmurs of him entering the first round range. However, is Bell really the kind of back that you take in the first round?
There is a lot to like about Bell’s skillset. He is 6’2” and 245 pounds with thick legs and strong arms. He has good balance and surprising agility in hitting the hole and making cuts. His long-speed is not noteworthy but he gets through the holes quickly. He is also adept at pass blocking, a rarity for young running backs like himself. He is a legitimate three-down workhorse that has solid hands with impressive technique for a guy many consider to be just a bruiser.
Despite Bell’s “completeness” as a running back, I would not classify him as a first round pick. Marcus Lattimore is currently my top running back and is a similarly complete back, but I also believe he offers more physical upside and potential than Bell. Despite Bell’s impressive yards per carry numbers, he does not offer the athleticism to be a true home-run threat at the NFL level. 15 years ago Bell would have been a top pick as a ‘Hoss’ for a run-heavy offense. As he is now, I think he is a solid day-two selection for a team like the Detroit Lions or Green Bay Packers who rely heavily on a passing game and need a back who can excel in pass blocking and grind out the tough yards to draw the safety in the box.
I think if Bell can drop down to about 235 pounds and continue to let his young body develop, he can improve his triangle numbers and raise his stock.
Bell at 235 pounds could probably clock the 40 yard dash in the 4.5 range. Combine his large size with soft hands and he presents a Steven Jackson-esque offensive weapon.
I firmly believe a first round running back has to show explosive potential in the modern NFL. Bell is a throwback type of player that has the technique to succeed in a modern NFL offense. However, as it stands, I just can’t justify Bell as a first round prospect.