Boiler Room: Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell


This piece on Bell is unlikely to convince you to change your opinion of him, but it does underscore why teams will be forced to make a decision and stand by it. Photo by Matt Radickal.

This piece on Bell is unlikely to convince you to change your opinion of him, but it does underscore why teams will be forced to make a decision and stand by it. Photo by Matt Radickal.

A polarizing player in the draft community engenders endless debate – even after we see that player on an NFL field. If he succeeds his backers believe that the detractors over analyzed the situation. If the prospect struggles the  naysayers will claim the backers didn’t see enough. In this sense Le’Veon Bell is a polarizing player in this draft.

The Boiler Room series is designed to be succinct with delivering the goods about a player. As the author of an annual tome, I’m often a spectacular failure in this respect.

Even so, I will study a prospect and see a play unfold that does a great job of encapsulating that player’s skills. When I witness these moments, I try to imagine if I would include this play as part of a cut-up of highlights for a draft show at a major network or if I was working for an NFL organization creating cut-ups for a personnel director. Unlike the No-Huddle Series, The Boiler Room is focused on prospects I expect to be drafted, and often before the fourth round.

It’s incredibly difficult to boil down any player with just one play – especially when a player invokes a major difference of opinion. Yet, if I need a play to add to the highlight reel that will help a team make a decision where to slot Le’Veon Bell on its board, I have a nomination – in this case, I have three. These plays demonstrate Bell’s, strength, burst, quickness, and agility – but do they show enough to settle the debate about Bell’s quickness?

This run against Minnesota is a beautiful combination of moves that rival any Madden video game replay.

Bell slides inside the double team from his tackle and tight end and takes two steps to set up a spin move inside a block at the hash, and then a step and plant to spin outside. I doubt Bell will be able to replicate this play again in his career, because I think it’s a product of his ability, the play, and the defense, but he is the first back I’ve seen execute a combo of inside and outside spins in this proximity of each other in quite a while and that counts for something.

Comment on the size of the hole, the blocking, and the defense all you want, but Bell’s spins were tight, quick, and balanced. He also kept his footing to gained 10 yards after the second spin. If Bell can demonstrate this kind of skill in the NFL, he’ll be a lead back whose only limitations will be his development in the passing game.

Bell’s supporters point to a powerful, 6’1″,230-lb. runner who has the frame to rival Ronnie Brown, but detractors see him as a sluggish player who only does good work through wide creases so he can build momentum and bully defenders after contact. The play above began with a wide crease. So does this one below.

The reads on this gap style play were straight forward and the blocking opened a huge backside crease to the inside, which Bell hits hard and gets down hill. I like the burst I see here, but his detractors may say the acceleration is deceptive due to the width of the hole.

Those who believe in Combine measurements will say that Bell’s 6.75-second, three-cone time was faster than Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley and the same as Jahvid Best, a back 31 pounds lighter. If LaGarrette Blount could pass protect and be a good citizen, there might not have been a need for a running back in Tampa Bay last year and Blount had much slower agility times than Bell. I thought Blount was quick enough. I haven’t seen anything to dissuade me about Bell’s athleticism.

I think the most balanced criticism I’ve heard is that Bell makes too many decisions like a scat back. They say if Bell can mature enough to temper his use of spin moves, hurdles, and reversals of field and only use them as a change-up to a powerful, downhill style, he has a chance to become a valuable starter.

This play below is a good demonstration of the power Bell flashes when he keeps it simple.

Good blocking to the edge, but Bell is fast enough to exploit it and also strong enough to push the pile for extra yards. The pad level and leg drive  are positives here. If Bell can show more often when and when not to use the skills you’ve seen from all three highlights, then he’ll have a productive NFL career.

These plays won’t settle any debates. If you believe these plays are a product of his line and inferior competition then you won’t view Bell as one of the better running back prospects in this draft. If you believe Bell will have the quickness to execute these plays consistently in the NFL then you think the Spartans runner is an underrated commodity who belongs near the top-tier of runners.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

Categories: Players, Reads Listens Views, Running Back, The Boiler RoomTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 comments

  1. Nice objective article, Matt. He could be a 1,000 yard back on an NFL team that is committed to running the ball, so maybe in Denver, New York or PIT? Also he’s been extremely durable. He’s better than Blount and Shonn Green, that’s for sure!

  2. he can succeed in the nfl. he is a willing pass blocker. he just needs to learn to do one cut and go otherwise he will get swarmed or worse hurt dancing around in the nfl. if he does one cut and makes decisive moves through the first line, he is powerful and quick enough and has the right balance and vision to succeed in the nfl.

    now is there a coach who can train him?

  3. Bell is an underrated receiver. MSU’s offense used lots of bubble screens in place of halfback passes during his time, but not because of his limitations.

  4. I’m extremely unimpressed with Bell after watching him in college. For his size, the guy runs with absolutely no leverage and breaks no tackles. The number of runs where he is stopped within the line of scrimmage seems way out of proportion with other runners I have watched. I don’t believe he’ll be able to have the same long runs he had in college that helped keep his YPA acceptable.

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