In some areas of the country football is like a religion. High school, college, pro, fans live Friday through Sunday (and sometimes Monday) rooting for their teams. In some other places it’s pro football that rules the day, and high school and college are a distant second. Then there are places where sports (not just football) drive a community. Local kids who play all year round in a number of sports can become legendary to communities. Many if not most of these games are standing room only with a raucous crowd, battle lines drawn cheering for their squad.
David Bell grew up in just such a close knit community just on the outskirts of Indianapolis. The people there don’t refer to their area as Indianapolis but rather the “Far Eastside.” Here the high school games can be heavily talked about from Monday up to game time on Friday.
This is a place with an abundance of great athletes. Many are given scholarships to go to private schools outside the Far Eastside. David Bell had that chance to go to a fancy school but chose to stay home and go to his neighborhood school the Warren Central Warriors.
David grew up in a single family household where his mom provided for him by working two jobs. Because of that David didn’t see a lot of his mom during the week but was lucky to have a pair of grandparents to guide him through life. David’s grandmother he said was like his mom who “basically took care of him since the time he was three.” She was (and still is) an amazing woman. Since she first started taking care of David, she had a severe stroke and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Still his grandmother would take David to his practices (He loved sports.) and to church every Tuesday, Friday (until he entered high school) and Sunday.
His grandmother told him, church was more important than basketball and he would end up needing God more than football.” Since early in life faith has been a huge part of David’s life and continues to be still today.
David excelled at both basketball and football. He was the leader of both teams for most of his high school career. He was a freshman, started on the varsity, then became a sophomore high school All American which put enormous pressure on him to be a leader and for his team to succeed.
During his senior season he couldn’t practice all summer because of an MCL injury. He only joined the team (without conditioning) a week before the season started. In week two of the season his football team team was featured on ESPN. They were down 21-0 with David cramping up on the sideline because of the heat. His team was down 41-21 later in the game when David reentered the game. The team got within 6 points late in the game when David caught a crossing pattern and weaved through the defense to score the winning TD with 10 seconds left in the game. Here is the end of that play.
Later in the state championship games David had a sprained ankle and was very limited in what he could do. He made some short receptions but ended up being more of a blocker on the way to an undefeated season and the state championship. In his state championship senior season he caught 85 passes for 1,542 yards and 22 TDs.
Before that state title game Warren was again down, but David returned a punt for a TD and the team never looked back. Here is some of that action
During that march to the state championship in football David was also the leader on his basketball team that was ranked #1 in the state. In the state semifinal game Warren had to face New Albany who had the Indiana Mr. Basketball Romeo Langford who now plays for the Boston Celtics. After being down most of the game David hit a bank shot at the buzzer to give his team the win. They went on to go undefeated and capture the state championship.
The championships in football and basketball (with undefeated seasons) brought an enormous sense of pride for the Far Eastside community, but it was also kind of a tribute to Dijon Anderson who played on the Warren Central football team the year before. He had signed an offer letter to play at Southern Illinois University but was killed while sitting in a car in a fast food parking lot by gunfire. Dijon wore jersey #3, and as a testament to him David (who always wore #4 at Warren Central) chose the jersey #3 when he went to Purdue to honor his fallen teammate.
It didn’t take long for David to become a star at Purdue. In his freshman year he started 9 of 12 games becoming a first team AP Freshman All American and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He tied for the Big Ten lead in receptions (86). He was #3 in receiving yards (1,035), and he tied for 7th with 7 receiving TDs in 2019.
2020 was a tough year in the Big Ten because of the pandemic. Purdue played only 6 games that year with David starting all of them. Still David accumulated 53 receptions for 625 yards (averaging over 100 yards a game) and 8 TDs. David not only garnered First Team All Big Ten honors, he was also on the All Big Ten Academic Team. In his first two seasons he had to shoulder a lot of responsibility for the team on the receiving end. Those two year he played alongside Rondale Moore, but injuries held Moore to just 7 games combined in those two seasons. In 2019/20 (18 games) Bell was targeted 209 times catching 139 balls for 1,660 yards and 15 TDs.
Bell is a smart, linear type receiver with enough strength to win against strongest press corners. He was a highly targeted receiver all through his college career. In 2021 he was targeted 134 times in 11 games catching 93 balls. He was second in the nation with 8.5 receptions per game. Other players played in 2 or 3 more games, but he was still second in total receptions and receiving yards (1,286) in the Big Ten.
Bell missed two games in 2021, the 4th game of the season against Illinois because of the concussion protocol. He also sat out the bowl game against Tennessee to prepare for the Draft. In the games he played Bell had 26% of the team’s receptions for 34% of the receiving yards despite being the focus of every defense Purdue played. It didn’t help that the running game was near nonexistent averaging a meager 2.9 yards a carry and 85 yards total a game on 30 attempts. Despite this Bell averaged 9.6 yards a target in 2021 which is excellent.
Bell has some quick feet along with unusually stable contact balance for a receiver over 6’0”. He has a strong set of hands. He is very good in contested catches with great body control to torque his body into position to make the catch. He also has an unconventional type of elusiveness, a kind of a quirky ability to avoid tacklers that is definitely his own. Watch the feet on this play against Notre Dame which is just a slant pass against soft man coverage.
This is just a basic quick catch, step and throw from the QB, but Bell doesn’t rush the pattern despite it’s hasty arrival. Bell sets up his opponent by coming off the line straight at the corner. If he had just shot off the line diagonally the CB would have closed on the play. Instead Bell comes at him and gives a rapid stutter step which gets the CB to open his hips and out of his pedal. Once he does this Bell dives down inside, crossing his face and gives a big target to his QB.
Once he makes the catch he uses some of his quirky type moves to avoid the big hit, avoid most of the contact, then dive forward for a few extra yards. This was nicely done on a third and 6 play when the defense is going to heavily guard the line at the first down.
Later in the same game Bell uses those quick feet to again gain an advantage on the off corner. As he leaves the line Bell gives the same type quick double step which this time stops the feet of the opponent. With a last chop step to the outside, the corner is sure Bell is headed down the sideline so he tries to prevent this with his body positioned to the outside.
This allows Bell an opening to the inside which he takes. This is a corner route so Bell stacks the defender on his back. This keeps the defender from making a play on the ball over the top. The throw is a little too far to the outside so Bell has to make a quick adjustment while looking back. With the defender knocking him slightly off balance Bell shows that great contact balance to gather himself. He jumps while spinning towards the ball then makes a great two handed catch. He protects the ball by pulling it quickly into his stomach as to not let it pop out once he crashes into the ground. This is an insanely athletic play which puts his team inside the 5 for a 1st and goal.
Now let’s check out some open field maneuvers as Bell traverses nearly the entire width of the field. He avoids nearly the entire team, what would have still scored in flag football.
This was one of the two games in 2021 that Bell didn’t have at least 10 targets. The other was Indiana but that was a 44-7 blowout win. This game Bell still had 6 receptions for 121 yards and 3 TDs. You can see here he doesn’t have a conventional running style, though he shows great vision on the play. I like the way he begins the reception by attacking the defender, stopping, then cutting off the block that he help set up by his driving toward the defender. This kept the focus on himself and not the blocker coming to open the path.
Bell is not all that fast or incredibly quick, but he has those quick feet that make very quick cuts. He doesn’t accelerate well out of the cuts, but he has that quirky body lean that somehow avoids defenders. His acceleration is actually decent for his size. Being over 6’1” it is more difficult to get up to to speed than a smaller player.
This next play is later in the same game, and Bell shows one of his favorite routes to run. This is a great play to run against a zone defense. It was used quite often by Sean McVay and the Rams with great success.
You basically run your two receivers to the left of the formation on go routes straight down the field. They are clearing out the deep defenders to that side of the field because they don’t expect another receiver to come into that deep zone. Bell has to get up to speed quickly, to cross the field. First he must get behind the linebackers before they drop into deep zones. The play action fake keeps them occupied so Bell is able to complete his task.
After that it’s just desire and again that great contact balance that allows Bell to somehow stay off the ground until he has a chance to reach out and hit the pylon with the ball. You have to love the heart and determination that got him into the end zone.
This next play is another well thought out design that gets the Boilermakers out of a hole. Minnesota is bringing their safety up from the middle of the field to cover the tight end but moreso to attack the run they think is coming. If the TE blocks down the safety is there to help in run support or drop into coverage if it’s a pass.
The safety takes a step up when he sees the play fake handoff. He then gets quickly into coverage on the tight end who is working the middle of the field. The corner to the side of Bell is 7 yards off the line, and he is passive. He lets Bell have the inside lane, crossing his face, putting the CB in a weak defensive position. With no safety in the middle of the field it allows Bell to run the post route unimpeded. The throw is above the shoulders which doesn’t allow the trailing corner to make a play on the ball. Bell knows how to attack a ball with a defender on his back. He makes the nice catch for a 35 yard gain.
Bell could have taken a single jab step to the outside which would have probably made the CB open his hips to that side. It could have made the route easier. He may have made more yards. As it is he may have wanted to get into the open as quickly as possible not knowing how long the protection would hold with all the defenders (5 across the line) pressing the line inches from their own goal. Still this is a catch with a defender right on him like he will see in the NFL.
On this next play you will see some of what I just mentioned. It’s against the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team that Bell just eat alive during his college career. Iowa will probably send flowers to Bell as a welcome to the NFL and out of the Big Big. This time the safety is there. He just gets transfixed on the action in front of him. He lets Bell get by him reacting late.
This is an excellent job by Bell taking advantage of what the defense is doing. Bell will not be a deep threat in the NFL. He will have a similar route structure as Cooper Kupp because they have similar skillsets. This is not to say Bell will as prolific as Kupp, but he should be more of a possession receiver who could occasionally make downfield plays. That previous cross field play is right out of the Cooper Kupp play catalog. You can see more clearly how Bell gets open and the play itself from another angle.
You can see from this angle that the corner is playing off the outside shoulder of Bell because he doesn’t want to cover the larger receiver by himself. This is what will happen if Bell gets to the sideline. He will have no help. So he is trying to force him inside which he is successful in doing. The corner opens his hips right away to the inside and starts to run immediately at the snap. Yet what gains Bell the separation is the jab step to the outside after his 5th step that makes the corner hesitate ever so slightly. This allows Bell to run right by him.
This should not be a death nail because the corner has inside help. Too bad the safety (who is his help) is slow to react because he lets his eyes focus on the play in front of him instead of the player getting behind him. The rest is execution with some excellent technical skill in the art of catching a deep ball. You can see why Bell does so well in contested catches oand deep throws. He has an innate ability.
For Bell, once he sees the ball thrown he is able to adjust his route to be exactly where the ball will land downfield; that is easier said than done. Then Bell can gauge when the ball will get there so he sort of glides the last couple of steps. When you are running hard, the ball will look like it is bouncing in the air. It’s because your feet are pounding the ground which sort of make your head bounce. This affects your eyes, so by gliding slightly it causes that bouncing to subside. Then Bell attacks the ball with his hands (both hands together) to pull in the catch. That last little jump puts the ball exactly where Bell wants it. Very nicely done in all aspect of the play.
This next clip is also against the Hawkeyes. Remember Iowa came into this game the #2 team in the country playing at home against an unranked opponent. This is a double move on the corner. If you watch the QB there is no reading the play. He doesn’t even look anywhere else. It’s just a pump then throw.
This poor corner was beat no matter how Bell ran the pattern. He had him beat to the inside when he crossed his face but also to the outside when Bell stuck his foot in the ground and cut. The only thing to worry about is the catch which again Bell does just perfectly. Bell doesn’t try to reach for the ball or turn towards the ball. He waits for it to come over his shoulder. Just like before he times it so it passes just above his helmet and into his waiting arms. This doesn’t allow the corner to reach his hand it to break up the throw. He can’t reach over Bell’s body from where he is. It’s just excellent technique because Bell know how to stack a defender so it’s second nature. He was schooled well on the way to be a receiver.
The same play from another view.
Watch Bell on the faux in cut. He turns his head to look at the QB just like it’s a quick slant pass. The corner has no choice but to take the bait. Then Bell breaks off the other direction just as the corner is moving in which gives him maximum separation. Only the fact that Bell had to wait on the throw allowed the corner to get anywhere near the play. This was well done all around.
By the way Bell’s numbers in his career against Iowa 2019- 13 receptions for 197 yards- 1 TD; 2020- 13 receptions for 121 yards- 3 TDs; 2021- 11 receptions for 240 yards- 1 TD. They are happy to see him go.
That last few plays were against #2 undefeated Iowa. Now here are a few plays against #3 undefeated Michigan State.
On this play that is not really easy to see, but Bell turns the corner around by going inside then back outside then down the sideline.
With the corner playing on his outside shoulder trying to force him inside Bell feigns like he is going to take the inside route He gets the corner running that way then turns him around by cutting back outside. This puts the corner in catchup mode so he tries to grab but ends up tripping himself and Bell at the same time. The corner falls but somehow (again) Bell maintains his balance just enough to be able to turn and make the catch. Again watch the great technique as he catches the ball pulls it quickly into his stomach area then falls backward to the ground making sure he maintains the catch.
This next clip against the same corner has the Boilermakers backed up against their own goal line so they need a play to give them breathing room. Bell is the only receiver to the right side of the formation so he needs to pivot outside away from the OLB who is going to drop into the outside zone and the safety who is going to cover the inside breaking route.
This is a back shoulder throw that is tossed a little early since Bell wasn’t even completely out of his break before it arrived. Still it is the only place the pass could have been completed. Bell does a nice job of making a little room for himself without pushing off and drawing a penalty. It’s a 16 yard gain and gets the offense out of a hole. You know Michigan State was pressing on this play since they are down by 13 with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Later that same game you see those quick feet from Bell make a big play against the same corner who is going to have nightmares from this game. The key here is that Bell comes off the line straight at the defender who has no clue which way he is headed. So he stops his feet which was the end.
Once the defender stops his feet Bell goes around him like he was standing still, which he was. It’s nice to see the quick feet but also the ability to find the open spot then look back for the ball. The great spin move that nets him another 20 yards. If he doesn’t slip on the wet grass he probably takes it in for a score, Bell’s stat line for the game against the #3 team in the country late in the season was 11 receptions for 217 yards and a TD.
David Bell’s 3 year college career at Purdue was highly successful which bodes well for his transition into the NFL. His career stats are 232 receptions on 343 targets, a terrific catch rate of 68% for a receiver who traversed the entire field. That catch rate would be good for a slot type receiver who works underneath zones. Remember too that Bell was the #1 target of not only his QB but also of the defense. They would slide coverage over David’s side and use their top cover man as well.
Bell had 2,946 receiving yards in 29 games which means he averaged over 100 yards a game for his entire Purdue career. If you add in the 6 rushes for 51 yards and a TD, Bell handled the ball on 238 plays without a single fumble in his career. In his 3 years at Purdue his career stats are 5th in receiving yards, tied for 5th in receiving TDs, and 4th in receptions all-time.
It is also wise to keep in mind that David is considered a hard worker at his craft. He is still very young with a lot to learn yet. He doesn’t turn 22 years old until the middle of December 2022. If he continues to develop (which there is no indication he won’t) he could continue to grow in any number of ways.
David Bell has a world of talent, but that is just the beginning of his story. He has great faith, and a strong, caring family unit behind him who gave him a great foundation for life. He has great character. David gives a football camp for the younger kids on the Far Eastside so maybe one of them will develop the same passion for the game he has.
David is humble but confident. He is well liked and in many ways admired by his teammates. He understands that he needs to work hard to get better which is what he has done so far. He did so without neglecting his studies and keeping grounded with a close connection to his church. He is the type of kid who might not be the most talented, but he is the type you want to build a team with. He does a lot of leading by example. He is more of the quiet type instead of the rah-rah guy.
David Bell is going to be a highly targeted, possession type receiver who will make an occasional big play but is more of a consistent chain mover. Bell is eerily similar to Cooper Kupp. They have a similar skill set. They are of similar size and both have an unorthodox open field running style. So it may take a little time for Bell to find his way in the NFL which is to be expected for most rookie receivers.
I currently have a low 2nd round grade on Bell (with move film to watch), but I’m sure he will go earlier than that in the draft because of his similarities to Kupp. He has a skill set that every team can use. If he develops like I think he will he should be a huge offensive asset for some team for many years.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?