Size: Bell has all the size you could want in a NFL running back. He is listed at 6’1”, 230 pounds and runs with surprisingly good pad level for a running back that tall. He is in very good shape and presents a tough frame to bring to the ground when he’s hitting the hole. His size can be a detriment when he runs too upright and when he is fighting for extra yardage, but overall I think it is a strong asset.
Speed: Bell isn’t going to win a lot of foot-races to the corner or when he breaks into the open field at the next level but for his size he is surprisingly fast. He ran a 4.60 at the NFL combine at 230 pounds which is no small feat. He’s not going to be a home-run hitter at the next level, but that’s not his game. I think he has more than enough speed to be an effective NFL starter.
Quickness: This is the part of Bell’s game that was most surprising to me. For being a big, 230 pound back he is shockingly quick. He has good acceleration, impressive burst, and is at his best when he can make one cut and go. He also has very surprising shiftiness in the open field which helps him gain additional yardage by getting defenders off balance. I really did not expect him to be so shifty and to make as many players miss as he did, but his shiftiness and his tight spin move serve him very well. He definitely has more than enough quickness and burst to be a NFL starter which you wouldn’t necessarily assume until you actually sit down and watch him. This is definitely one of the strengths of Bell’s game which I certainly didn’t expect.
Running Inside: This is where Bell is best and I don’t think that will change at the next level. He runs patiently, allows his blocks to set up, and is slow to the hole but quick to get through it thanks to his surprisingly acceleration for his size. You aren’t going to arm tackle him thanks to his sheer size and strength, plus he can get going pretty fast if you let him pick up steam. He doesn’t usually run very upright and that makes him tough to tackle in the hole, but there are times he stops his feet in the backfield and that makes him a sitting duck as he will be upright and have no head of steam. I actually think he could thrive in a zone scheme as he is very good at finding cut-back lanes and does a great job of planting his foot and hitting the hole once he sees it. He is definitely a lot more physical than I gave him credit for coming into the season and I was very pleased to see that. He has impressive leg drive as expected, but he lowered his shoulder and fought for tough yardage a lot more as a junior than I thought I saw as a sophomore. I loved how he was finishing runs this year, and having that mentality in addition to the quickness he possesses makes him a much more intriguing back than I previously gave him credit for.
Running Outside: This is one phase of the game where Bell leaves something to be desired. He simply doesn’t have the pure speed necessary to get the edge and running him outside simply will be playing against his strengths as a runner which lie between the tackles for the most part. Bell has good enough vision that he will likely be able to find cut-back lanes and salvage what carries he does get to the outside, but he’s not going to beat a lot of defenders to the corner at the next level. He doesn’t even do it consistently in college, and he seems to realize that he is better off finding a cut-back lane and getting upfield than trying to win by getting to the sideline.
Receiving: Bell isn’t a great receiver by any means, but he is above-average and should be good enough to catch passes out of the backfield if nothing else. I don’t see a good route runner that can make catches away from his frame or in traffic, but as a check down or screen option he should be reliable at the next level. He’s not a game-breaker in the screen game, but he has solid enough hands that if you don’t keep an eye on him he can make you pay as a receiver.
Blocking: Bell has all the size and strength you could ever want in a pass blocker at running back and while he is reliable in this phase of the game he only figures to get better with NFL coaching. He steps up to engage the defender “in the trees” and has the lateral agility to mirror defenders coming off the edge. The effort and skill set is all there, so I expect him to be a quality pass protector at the next level.
Vision: I was also pleasantly surprised by Bell’s vision. I don’t think he is elite in this area, but he is certainly good enough to be a quality NFL starter and that was encouraging to see. As I mentioned previously I think he would be a very intriguing fit in a zone blocking scheme and you can’t be an effective runner in that scheme without the vision to find cut-back lanes. He runs patiently as he allows his blocks to set up (almost too patiently sometimes, particularly when he’s running outside) and uses his blockers effectively to gain additional yardage at the second level and when he gets into the open field. He may not have blazing speed, but his vision helps him gain additional yardage when he gets into a crease.
Ball Security: From all that I have seen fumbling is absolutely not an issue for Bell. He keeps the ball high and tight even on his patented spin move and I didn’t see him fumble in any of the games I watched while writing this scouting report. I’d be very surprised if ball security is a problem for Bell in the NFL.
Overall: If you follow me on Twitter then you will know that I was not a Le’Veon Bell fan coming into the season and described him as a “finesse back trapped in a power backs body” at one point. However, I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong and in this instance I believe I am. Bell showed me a lot more toughness and physicality as a junior and I was very happy to see that. I thought he lowered his shoulder more, fought for the tough yards better and finished runs stronger than he did a year ago. Add on the fact that his quickness and shiftiness serves him very well and he’s a very intriguing running back. I don’t think he’s going to be much more than an average to above-average receiver in the NFL, but I don’t think he needs to be much more than that to be effective in the passing game. Add on the fact that he has good vision and pass protects well (especially considering he was really only “the guy” for one full year) and he’s quite the back. He’s not going to be a big home-run hitter, but he has a very unique and intriguing skill set that I think warrants 2nd-3rd round consideration without a doubt. I never thought I’d say that coming into the season, but like I said, I’ll admit when I’m wrong if I am proven to be so. In this case, I’m pleased to say that I am.
Projection: Top 75. I think Bell could very well end up in the 2nd round, but if he doesn’t I don’t think he gets out of the top half of the 3rd even in a deep running back class. But it’s very realistic that he could come off the board in the late 2nd to team like the Packers or the Falcons. The Steelers also figure to be interested in him as well.