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A Look Forward At Le’Veon Bell

1st in a series

New York Jets Minicamp Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

A Look Forward At Le’Veon Bell

In the free agency period of 2019 there was no more polarizing player to teams and fans alike than Le’Veon Bell. Bell’s immense talent is undeniable, but he has a persona as a selfish player which is usually not a good fit for a young ascending team. Discussions surrounding Bell grew contentious between fans and members of the Jets hierarchy. In the end Mike Maccagnan won out by signing Bell to a huge free agent contract but lost because he was asked to step down as the GM of the Jets by CEO Chris Johnson.

It was reported that Jets coach Adam Gase was one of the people against signing Bell to a huge contract. It was rumored that Gase thought the money could be better used elsewhere and there are numerous running backs who can get the job done for a fraction of the cost.

So where does this leave the Jets?

Basically it leaves the Jets with an ingenious offensive minded coach, a QB who has shown rapid growth in a year, and a All-Pro RB who has had a chance to rest for a year as to recharge his energy level. Add to that a quality slot receiver and huge upgrades on the defensive side of the ball with a defensive coordinator with a history of making talent-lacking defenses perform at their highest potentials. The Jets are not constructed perfectly with some glaring holes on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary, but the team hired a rising star in Joe Douglas as GM to lead the Jets into the promised land.

Some people have questioned Le’Veon Bell’s team commitment, but no one has questioned his football acumen or elite talent unless you read what scouts said about him coming out of Michigan State in 2013.

Bell ran a 4.60/40 at the NFL Combine. He is a big RB at 6’ 1” 230 lbs so his time was fitting for his size but not indicative of blazing speed. The problem as one scout said, “Bell has monster size, but also shows nimble feet. Can make people miss at any level of the field, but doesn’t have very good vision. NFL COMPARISON LeGarrette Blount

Le’Veon Bell has the best vision, better than any back in the NFL especially in confined areas like the line of scrimmage; top 5 vision for a RB in NFL history. The comparison to LeGarrette Blount is near criminal in my book (scouting wise) as Blount is a completely different type of back from Bell. The Draft scores for the RB position by NFL .com scouts were:

Giovani Bernard North Carolina- 84.0

Eddie Lacy Alabama - 82.0

Montee Ball Wisconsin - 75.6

Marcus Lattimore South Carolina - 74.9

Kniles Davis Arkansas - 74.2

Christine Michael Texas A&M - 71.4

Le’Veon Bell Michigan State - 71.2

Giovani Bernard was the fist back selected in 2013. He went #37 to Cincinnati even though he was 5’ 8” and had had a bad ACL injury in 2010.Nine years ago an ACL injury was considered a huge red flag because the surgical procedures had not advanced to the skill level they have now. Bell was the second RB taken that year 11 spots after Bernard, and there were even some rumblings that the Steelers had reached when they drafted Bell.

Marcus Lattimore was drafted in the 4th round after having a severe knee injury as a sophomore and a gruesome knee injury as a junior. He was put on the PUP list after he signed and never played a down in the NFL. He was still rated better than Bell.

After 5 seasons in the NFL Bell is now one of the most dominant players in football regardless of position. He has power to get the tough yards, the vision to sneak through holes in the defense, and great hands to aid in the passing game. His presence should be a huge boost to the Jets running game and a big help to Sam Darnold. As the passing game improves it will have a reciprocal effect in helping the running game.

With a improved running game, a few more targets to throw to (Bell, Crowder), and the addition of a offensive-minded coach, Sam Darnold should have what he needs to take the next big step in his development. The addition of Gregg Williams as DC will help Adam Gase as head coach because he will have to spend little time working with the defense. He can devote the vast majority of his time to Sam and the offense.

So what skills Le’Veon Bell brings to the Jets?

Bell has elite vision in the hole, and though he is a big back he has very nimble with quick feet to slither through tight spaces. He also is a big back with tremendous balance and a great stiff arm he uses often. This is a 2nd and 3 play where Bell powers though for a 10 yard gain.

Did I mention the stiff arm? That was C. J. Mosley who Bell so rudely pushed aside. Timmy Jernigan who is a 300 lbs tackle grabs Bell by the shoulder pad, but Bell pulls away and keeps going. The Ravens had and still have a solid run defense and even have eight in the box on this play. It makes little difference.

Bell’s at vision in tight quarters is due to two factors. One is his patience as a runner. He allows blocks to be set before he picks which hole he is going through. More importantly, Bell reads the defensive man and waits him out. By this I mean he waits for the defender to commit to a side of hole he is going to attack at. Defenders near the line of scrimmage must act quickly or they will get ear holed and knocked down by an offensive lineman. Bell will wait for the defender to choose a side and simply run the opposite direction. Now sometimes there is no place to go, but Bell usually gets what is there and more. Here is a sample of what I mean.

Bell is set up 7 yards from the line of scrimmage at the snap and heads left with a good head of steam by the time he gets the ball. The line blocks well. A huge hole opens up off tackle; which is where the play is designed to go. Bell takes a jab step toward the hole and sees Manti Te’o and Jeremiah Attaochu ready to close in. Bell jump cuts out of the hole and around the end. Most backs would have jammed it in the hole for a 3 or 4 yard gain. Bell’s vision to see the defenders on the play turned the play into a 20 yard gain.

On this next play KC is in an 8 man front with a blitzing safety. There is penetration on the play which is then strung out to the sideline. Bell has to wait for some movement before he can head upfield. He gets through the hole quickly enough that he only has to break an arm tackle from Josh Mauga then quickly avoid the flying tackle of the strong safety.

He is eventually run down by CB Sean Smith after a 40 yard gain. Of course not all Bell’s runs are this successful. Some go for loses, but he gives you that extra dimension of the spectacular play once or twice a game that can be a turning point. He also gives you a lot in the passing game. With a season off to recharge his batteries and heal up from the rigors of over 1,200 career rushing attempts, Bell enters his age 27 season as healthy as he has ever been as a pro. He is also coming off a 2017 season that saw him gain more than 1,900 scrimmage yards in 15 games.

I mentioned quick feet and vision in the hole. This play is exactly what I am talking about. This play is headed left with LG B. J. Finney and C Maurkice Pouncey pulling to lead the way. With Chiefs #95 Chris Jones and #52 Kevin Pierre-Louis chasing from the inside, Bell cuts off the block of Finney. He appears to have a free avenue to the outside with Pouncey as the lead blocker. But a safety #49 Daniel Sorensen (unseen yet) is flying up to cover the outside before Pouncey will be in place.

Most backs (if they could find a way through this mess) would have immediately cut outside and hoped for the best. Yet Bell cuts inside (the shorter route) between the blocks of #81 Jesse James and #66 David Decastro. Sorensen now has to adjust. Bell makes his fourth hard cut on the play. This causes Sorensen to overrun the tackle attempt which vaults Bell into the clear. Bell’s fifth cut is at the 30. This allows Pouncey to get in position to block the other safety #38 Ron Parker. The play is a 43 yard gain by the cutting, weaving Bell.

Unlike many big backs, Bell is able to avoid contact, especially solid hard hitting contact. This helps lessen the wear and tear that he would normally pick up running between the tackles. Here is an example against the Patriots who have this play well defensed. Still Bell is able to maneuver his way to 12 yards.

Bell presses this play as far as he can to the edge but is outflanked by #23 Patrick Chung and #25 Eric Rowe. Because Bell is pressing the edge the players must overplay the outside which in turn allows the cutback inside right at the line of scrimmage. Chung merely gets a hand on Bell who breaks that tackle attempt easily as Rowe follows Bell inside. Rowe finally is able to corral Bell at the 26 but the momentum (and David Decastro) helps Bell gain an additional 5 yards. Without having to outrun anyone or run a defender over Bell is able to get many more yards than what was originally there. In the process he avoided any crushing blows.

This doesn’t mean that Bell lacks power. On the contrary, Bell has deceptive power. He is not considered a power back because he will come to a near stop at the line of scrimmage to find a hole. The hesitation reduces his power on that play. The less momentum you carry the less force you have when you hit the line of scrimmage. Bell is looking for an opening, not a player to run over. Still he is a load to take down especially around the goal line. This next play is a great example of just that.

Bell gets the ball then moves right, then left, then comes to almost a complete stop. He then sees the opening he desires then moves back right into the hole. He is hit by a defender at about the 2 yard line, but that does nothing to thwart his momentum as he easily drives the defender back into the end zone. Great leg drive, power and balance all led to the score, and you can even see Bell reach the ball out as he gets to the goal line so there will be no doubt he is getting the score.

Again this is 2nd and goal from the 8 yard line which is definitely a passing situation for most teams. This is a beautiful run as Bell gets the ball moving left then immediately takes two steps right all the while with his head up watching the defenders at the second level of the defense. He jumps back left. Then he accelerates off the block of Ramon Foster as he eyes the end zone.

With great forward momentum and body lean Bell is hit cleanly at the three by #31 Kevin Byard, but he rips through that tackle attempt. Bell continues toward the goal line then absorbs a shoulder tackle of Brice McCain and a wrap tackle of Logan Ryan. Bell tears through both of those attempts to stop him, turns his body to protect the ball, absorbs two more tacklers who pile on top then falls into the end zone. Bell doesn’t look it because he is so light on his feet and elusive, but he is 6’ 1” 230 lbs which is about the same size as John Riggins. Bell is sort of a jitterbug RB with superior power. Still as you can see here he doesn’t really take a hard hit. He sort of slides off the tackles as he continues forward.

Bell doesn’t have great straight line speed, but he has effective speed with those light feet, elusiveness and a quick burst that is underappreciated. Here against Cincinnati the Steelers are pulling RG David Decastro along with motion man TE Heath Miller to the left side of the formation as Bell takes the handoff and heads that direction as well. As Decastro kicks out the end and Miller takes out the safety, Bell waits as LT Kelvin Beachum gets to the 2nd level to take out ILB Vincent Rey.

Once that block is made Bell explodes through the hole and cuts upfield off the butt of Miller and into the clear. You can see Bell hesitate then use that quick burst to fly past the defenders. He is eventually run down by Nick Vigil (lack of long speed), but this play changes the complexion of the game. Starting the fourth quarter with the Steelers down by 4 points this 55 yard gallop is the best way to a teamed primed for the winning push.

Bell is a proven talent running the football, but is also a proven skilled receiver with excellent hands and plus route running abilities. Here is the same Nick Vigil who ran down Bell on his 55 yard scamper. He is no match in open field coverage.

This is like stealing. As Bell comes out of the backfield he is head up with Vigil in coverage with a two way go. Vigil is stationary as he awaits Bell’s move to the right or left. With his momentum Bell fakes left, goes right, and is in the clear. Vigil is not running him down this time. Roethlisberger’s throw is even a little behind Bell, but there is such a huge advantage it makes little difference for the easy score.

Bell is such a great receiver as a RB he can even be split out wide like a WR or TE. On this play bell is split out wide to the left against Tony Jefferson of the Ravens. Just like before given a two way go even a safety like Jefferson is at the mercy of Bell.

This isn’t even a great move as Bell just quickly slants inside crossing Jefferson’s face. Bell breaks the weak tackling attempt of Jefferson then splits the tackling attempts of Eric Weddle and C. J. Mosley at the goal line. With Bell’s balance and power he easily breaks through for a 20 yard score to give Pittsburgh the early lead. This is the type of versatility that Bell gives you as an offense. Because of his power in the running game you must have run stopping personnel in the game. Yet Bell can be split out as a receiver, and he gives you another, equally dangerous advantage as a receiver in space.

In this final play you see Bell split out to the right against a CB in Jourdan Lewis. Even in a condensed area near the goal line with a RB as a receiver, Ben Roethlisberger is looking to Bell all the way knowing he will beat coverage. This is the kind of respect the Steelers had for Bell as a receiver; even with Antonio Brown on the field Bell was the primary option.

Even with DB Anthony Brown cutting in front of him Bell is able to make a nice hands catch of a ball far out in front of him with a little mustard on it. You can see that Bell expects the ball and also expects to make the play. He has ultra confidence in his abilities no matter what he is asked to do.

Le’Veon Bell brings a variety of high end skills to the Jets. He also brings some baggage along with the talent, but a year away from the game and some less than enthusiastic appreciation of his talents in free agency may have put a chip on his shoulder. He may have matured during his time away from the game as many players do when they become older.

Whatever the case the Jets have a high end option at RB with the talent to scare defensive coordinators into shifting defensive philosophies. This should aid players like Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson. Bell is the type of back who doesn’t need a great push by his offensive line to gain yardage. He just needs gaps in he defensive line that allow him to read the movement of the 2nd level defenders to have a splash play.

Bell’s ability to read a defense and its movements allow him figure out where he is ahead of the actual action It’s kind of like chess. You make a move hoping that you will reap rewards 3 moves later. Bell is not always perfect in his assessment, but when he is right it can be a game changer.

Bell (with his talent) is the best RB the Jets have had since Ladainian Tomlinson and is 5 years younger than LT when he retired in 2011. If Bell is as good as he was in 2017 (the last year he played) he will be worth the investment. By the way Le’Veon Bell said, “This is literally the best I’ve ever felt,” when asked how he feels coming into a season. Only time will tell.

What do you think?..