All things considered, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had a very productive rookie season in 2013. Playing behind a very inconsistent offensive line, he managed 1,259 yards from scrimmage (a franchise record for rookie running backs) and 8 touchdowns on 289 total touches.
His ability to catch the football – evidenced by his 45 receptions – enabled him to stay on the field on all down and distance situations, something the Steelers were counting on when they selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In a lot of ways, Bell was one of the only bright spots on a team that finished 8-8 for the second consecutive season. And for a fan base not accustomed to mediocrity and missing the playoffs, Bell’s ability as a true lead back signifies an upward pointing arrow for the franchise.
Back in May, numberFire’s Joe Redemann profiled Bell’s rookie season and his prospects for being a high-volume running back moving forward. He found that, from a metrics standpoint, Bell was actually below-average last season compared to other running backs with similar volume.
When we take Bell’s performance during his rookie season into consideration, the off-season acquisition of LeGarrette Blount becomes a much more intriguing proposition.
When Blount was signed by the Steelers, most assumed he wouldn't be a threat to Bell’s lead back role. Under closer inspection, however, the Steelers may be wise to cede some of Bell’s workload to the newly-signed 245-pound hammer.
Blount: By The Numbers
In 2013, LeGarrette Blount was a revelation for the New England Patriots. Coming into the season, it was assumed that Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen would be the main cogs in the running game, with Blount providing depth. As it turned out, Vereen was sidelined for eight games with a wrist injury while Ridley was continually sidelined by head coach Bill Belichick for his fumbling issues.
Blount stepped in and performed admirably, racking up 772 yards and 7 touchdowns on just 153 carries. His 5.0 yards per carry ranked third among 150-plus carry players, behind only DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy – pretty exclusive company.
Going beyond his statistical production shows that Blount was terrific from an efficiency standpoint as well.
numberFire’s Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric shows how many points a runner lost or gained for his team over the course of a season, adjusted for down and distance and individual game situations. When looking at the top 10 in Rushing NEP among runners with 150-plus carries, Blount's 2013 season becomes even more impressive.
|Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP/Attempt||Success Rate|
Blount’s 9.43 Rush NEP ranked 7th, 17 spots ahead of his new Steelers teammate Le’Veon Bell. If you dig deeper and look at his Rush NEP per attempt, which is a better measure of true rushing efficiency, Blount finished sixth in the same group – ahead of Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, and Matt Forte.
Maybe the most impressive result of all is that Blount led all similar runners in Rushing Success Rate – a metric showing the percentage of carries that contributed positively to a player’s total Rushing NEP.
A Bell/Blount Timeshare?
We’ve heard a lot of talk this off-season about high-volume running backs being thrust into new “timeshare” situations around the league – Doug Martin in Tampa Bay and Marshawn Lynch in Seattle being prime examples.
Even though Blount outperformed Bell in nearly every efficiency category in 2013, it certainly doesn't guarantee a profound change in the distribution of carries for 2014. The Pittsburgh Steelers are highly-invested in Bell and are going to put him in a position to succeed, and the situation that Blount was in a season ago was much more favorable than what he'll see in Pittsburgh.
According to Steelers' beat-writer Ed Bouchette, Bell and Blount have formed a nice one-tow punch during OTAs and mini-camp. Blount has only topped 200 carries once in his career – 201 carries in 2010 with Tampa Bay. Getting between 100-125 carries, however, is definitely in the realm of possibility.
By signing Blount in the off-season, the Steelers made a very wise personnel decision that will improve the quality of their backfield, which they lacked past Bell a season ago. If Blount can maintain the efficiency he showed in 2013 this season, he should have no trouble finding a solid supporting role next to Bell in the Steelers backfield.