By Brandon Howard
Le’Veon Bell a two star recruit out of Reynoldsburgh Ohio played his high school football at Groveport Madison. Bell was widely recruited by schools in the Midwestern Athletic Conference at his natural position of running back, however he was also recruited as a safety at larger schools such as OSU and WVU.
In his senior season at Groveport Madison, Bell rushed for 1,333 yards and 21 touchdowns on 200 carries and then committed to Michigan State University. Believe it or not Le’Veon Bell “slipped through the cracks” as Michigan State was the only school from a BCS conference, which allowed him an opportunity to play running back; his position of choice.
As a freshman in 2010 Bell appeared in all 13 games for the Spartans earning Big Ten all freshman honors as he rushed for 605 yards on 107 carries and 8 touchdowns. He also added 97 yards on 11 receptions. In his sophomore season, Bell was named all Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media. After leading the team with 948 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, Bell was named the teams Most Outstanding Underclass Back by the Spartan’s coaching staff.
As a Junior Bell won the Big Ten rushing title with 1,793 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He would also add another 167 yards and 1 touchdown on 32 receptions. Michigan State’s opener against Boise State set the tone for Bell’s entire season as he carried the football a career high 44 times. He would go on to carry the football more than any running back in the entire FBS with 382 carries.
Bell 6’2” 237 Lbs. possesses prototypical NFL size at the running back position. Bell’s size enables him to run with outstanding power, however he is rather tall for the running back position, which at times costs him positioning/leverage when fighting for additional yardage. With that said, Bell has more than enough size to be an every down running back at the next level.
Speed is likely the biggest knock against Bell, as he does not appear to have great long speed. Bell lumbers when he runs, exhibiting a stride similar to former standout WR from USC Mike Williams. According to Assistant Track and Field Coach, Ryan Alton of Groveport Madison, Bell participated in the High Jump and 200- meter dash his junior year of high school.
He achieved a personal best of 6’4” in the high jump as well as 24.4 seconds in the 200-meter dash. His mark of 6’4 in the high jump shows some explosion, but with a time of 24.4 in the 200-meter dash, it’s quite obvious that he is not a sprinter. I fully expect Bell to run between 4.56-4.62 in the 40-yard dash.
Bell has very good feet for a back that is 6’2” 237 Lbs. and exhibits better than average wiggle and start and stop ability. Due to his size defenders often attempt to tackle him low, but because of his reaction time he is able to hurdle over defenders and leave them grasping at air. Bell also has very good feet which enables him execute spin moves regularly performed by smaller backs.
Against Minnesota he was able to string together two spin moves in opposite directions on a single run. Though he is a larger back I realized that contrary to popular belief, Bell actually has very good acceleration. He is not what you would call a build up speed player. Unfortunately Bell doesn’t have the top end to compliment his quickness.
Bell is a very good inside runner who utilizes outstanding patience and vision between the tackles. He does a tremendous job pressing the hole and getting north and south once he sees a crease in the defensive front. At 6’2” Bell is a taller back and has a tendency to run upright while approaching the line of scrimmage if he does not see an immediate opening.
It doesn’t happen often, but he has hesitated at times on inside runs resulting in a loss of leverage as well as yardage. He is at his best when he is attacking the line of scrimmage as he runs with appropriate pad level especially when anticipating contact.
Bell keeps his eyes up and often times is able to leap over or elude defenders aiming for his legs. He also exhibits very good power, which enables him to routinely move a pile, especially when hit up high. Bell also has a very impressive stiff-arm, which has also enabled him to fight for additional yardage.
While Bell has the ability to occasional get on the perimeter as a result of him using his speed judiciously or varying his speed to the outside, patience and vision, he will not be able to consistently get on the edge at the next level. On inside runs he sets up his blocks extremely well, however there are times he simply waits too long to get his pads parallel to the line of scrimmage on outside runs.
There is a fine line between patience and hesitation. Bell’s hesitation on outside runs will more often than not result in him being strung out of bounds at the next level. There were times he was able to get away with hesitating to turn up field on outside runs in the Big Ten by leaping over or spinning away from defenders.
I do not believe he will be able to duplicate the same success on the edge in the NFL he once enjoyed in college. Linebackers and defensive backs will want to go “heads up with him” opposed to diving at his ankles and miss fewer tackles. With that said, Bell’s saving grace is that he has the vision necessary to sight cutback lanes from the outside in and routinely exploit them. If he can learn to be more decisive on outside runs and get north while looking for cutback lanes, then I would not eliminate the outside run call from the game plan with Bell in the backfield.
Bell has very good hands out of the backfield in the screen game but seemed to have difficulty tracking the football on crossing routes. Bell also failed to look the football in when other defenders were in close proximity to him. When he is in the open, he catches the football very well and even proved capable of catching the football outside of his frame. With that said, he is going to have to improve on looking the football in while in traffic, as well as being stronger at the point of the catch.
At Bell’s size, I was hoping to see a running back that would step up and occasionally stonewall his man in pass protection and I got exactly what I was hoping for. He routinely showed the ability to meet his man in the hole providing his quarterback more time in the pocket. Bell presents a solid base and keeps his head up during pass protection. Occasionally he will lunge at his man but it does not keep him from getting the job done. Outside of him lunging at his man at times, Bell has all the tools and “want to” to be very good in pass protection at the next level.
Bell has very good vision, as he has proven the ability to press the hole, cutback and exploit rushing lanes. He also seems to react and find creases in a defense in traffic or along the interior better than he does when he’s in the open or on the perimeter. Bell just appears to be more comfortable running the football between tackles. Even on outside runs, he is constantly looking to cutback inside which is what I feel contributes to his indecisiveness/ hesitation. If he can develop a more attacking nature on outside runs, his vision on outside runs will have then caught up with the vision he possesses on inside runs.
Carrying/handling vs. fumbling:
Unlike the past two running backs I’ve had the pleasure of watching at length in Mike Gillislee and Eddie Lacy, Bell routinely carries the football in his outside arm. He carries the football high and tight and does not get careless with the football when fighting for additional yardage. While executing a stiff-arm, he pins the football even closer to his body just as running backs are taught.
While he typically carries the football close his body while performing a spin move, he has occasionally allowed the football outside of his frame. He should also be more aware of backside pursuit as well, as he has routinely exposed the football to defenders when hurdling defenders. Overall, Bell takes good care of the football and does not have fumbling issues.
Being that he carried the football 382 times this season, Bell did sustain the typical bumps and bruises commonly associated with the running back position. With that said he has proven durable and has not missed a game in his collegiate career. Due to Bell’s underrated lateral quickness, he does not take a lot of big hits as he does an outstanding job getting on the edge of tacklers. It appears that he has the body type and running style conducive to achieving an injury free career at the next level.
Dating back to his days at Groveport Madison High School Bell has always been viewed as a good kid by his coaches and instructors according to Assistant Boys Track Coach Ryan Alton. At the urging of his mother and Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio, Le’Veon Bell enrolled at Michigan State after his first semester of his senior year of high school.
Early enrollment allowed Bell to escape many outside influences that might have detracted from such a bright future. Bell is described by Dantonio as a hardworking kid with passion and drive to be great. It’s been said that while he doesn’t have all of the measurables you look for, he has many intangible qualities that are difficult to account for.
Bell is a quality back, which presents a very good combination of size and lateral agility. He also has very good patience and vision most especially as an interior runner. While he has demonstrated that he can get on the perimeter in the Big Ten, he will struggle in this area at the next level if he does not learn to attack while searching for cutback lanes.
Bell will likely earn his keep at the next level between the tackles but he may find a better balance in a zone-blocking scheme where his vision would allow him to be utilized on outside zone plays as well. After watching Bell at length, I certainly feel he has the ability to stick in the NFL as an every down running back. Areas he may look to improve upon are squaring up or not lunging in pass protection, adopting an attack first mentality on outside runs, being stronger at the point of the catch in traffic and looking the football in on crossing routes.
Overall I’m a fan of Bell and I would have no problem taking him late in round 2 to mid round 3. With that said, he will likely be taken between rounds 3 and 4. It would not surprise me to see teams such as the Falcons, Packers, Bills and Steelers express interest in a quality player like Le’Veon Bell.