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The Numbers Behind Le’Veon Bell’s Greatness

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It’s official - Le’Veon Bell is a Jet. Sam Darnold now has the league’s all-time leader in scrimmage yards per game at his disposal.

Let’s get into all of the numbers behind one of the most talented offensive players in the NFL.

  • As previously mentioned, Bell’s career average of 129.0 yards from scrimmage per game makes him the league’s all-time leader among players with at least 50 career games played.
  • From 2013-17, Bell ranked third in the league in total rushing yards (5,336) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (35). Among players with at least 50 games played over that span, he ranked first in rushing yards per game (86.1) and second in rushing touchdowns per game (0.565).
  • After a less-than-stellar rookie season from an efficiency standpoint, Bell caught fire over his final four seasons. His average of 4.54 yards per carry from 2014-17 ranked second best among the 20 running backs with least 600 carries over that span. To rank near the very top of the league in yards per carry while also leading the league in carries per game (20.1 over those four seasons) is remarkable.
  • Of course, Bell also has been dominant in the passing game. Since he entered the league in 2013, Bell leads running backs in catches (312), receiving yards (2,660) and receiving first downs (124). That’s even with his skipped 2018 season included.
  • Just like he does in the rushing game, as a receiver Bell mixes volume with efficiency at an elite level. He owns a career average of 6.7 yards per target, which ranks 5th best among the 26 running backs with at least 200 targets since 2013. In both 2016 and 2017, he ranked second among running backs with a minimum of 60 targets in receiving “success rate” (via His mark of 55% in each year bested the approximate average for running backs of about 45%.
  • Bell’s ball security has been very good. He’s fumbled on only 8 of his 1,541 career regular season touches, a 0.52% rate. That’s the second lowest frequency among the 18 RBs with 1000+ touches since 2013. On the downside, seven of his eight career fumbles came over his most recent two seasons from 2016-17, after losing the ball only once from 2013-15.
  • Bell is an average “big play” threat, with only 2.2% of his career carries going for 20+ yards, versus the league average of 2.5%. This was especially true in 2017, as despite leading the league in carries, he accumulated only 3 runs of 20+ yards, a minuscule 0.9% rate. His longest run that season was only 27 yards. However, he has done a phenomenal job avoiding the negative plays. Only 36.4% of his career carries have resulted in a stuff (two yards or less and no first down), well below the league average of 41.7% and easily the best among qualified running backs.
  • To add to that aforementioned ability to avoid the negatives, Bell has done a really nice job staying away from poor performances. He almost always has done a good enough job on the ground to keep the running game a threat that needs to be respected - something that the Jets running backs all too often have failed to do in recent years. Over his previous three seasons (37 regular season + playoff games), Bell has averaged under 3.0 yards per carry only one time. In comparison, Jets running backs as a group ran for below 3.0 yards per carry six times in 2018 alone.
  • Having never had a regular season with 10 rushing touchdowns, Bell does have somewhat underwhelming career TD totals given his touch volume (he averages 9.0 rushing touchdowns per 16 games and 1.8 receiving touchdowns per 16 games), but part of the reason why might just be that the Steelers didn’t use him that much near the goal line. Only 7.5% of his carries have come inside of the 10-yard line, below the league average of 7.9% since 2013. About 75% of rushing touchdowns are scored in that range, so a below average diet of opportunities in that area could hurt a player’s touchdown totals. In addition, only 5.3% of his targets have come inside of the ten, below the league average of 5.8%. 46% of pass TD are scored in that range.
  • Since drafting him 48th overall out of Michigan State in the second round of the 2013 Draft, The Steelers have performed slightly better with Bell in uniform. Including the playoffs, with Bell, the Steelers have gone 44-22 (.667), a 10.7 win pace. Without him, they’ve gone 21-15-1 (.581), a 9.3 win pace.
  • Bell is reuniting with his former left tackle in Pittsburgh, Kelvin Beachum. From 2013-15, with Beachum as his left tackle, Bell averaged 5.7 yards per carry on rushes directed left end or left tackle. That was the best mark in the league among the 24 backs with at least 100 carries in those directions over that span.
  • How much does Bell’s mileage matter? I decided to do a little digging to learn a little bit about how much the wear on his tires might affect his future production. Bell accumulated 1,541 touches through his age-25 season, 9th most all-time. I took a look at the other fourteen players in the top fifteen of touches through age 25, and charted how their production and availability looked over their next four seasons versus their career prior.

The differences were very slight. The average dip in scrimmage yards per game was only 4.7%, a total of about five yards from 109.2 to 104.2. The dip in percentage of games played was almost non-existent, from 93% to 92%.

The average player in the group had 2.7 more seasons of 1,500+ scrimmage yards (top 10 caliber), and 1.4 more seasons of 1,800+ scrimmage yards (top 3-5 caliber). Half of the players on the list saw at least two more seasons with 1,800+ scrimmage yards, while 11 of 14 saw at least two more seasons with 1,500+ scrimmage yards. With Bell likely set to play at least two seasons for the Jets, it’s promising to see that other backs with a ton of wear and tear tended to continue producing at a high level for at least a few more years.