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The whole football world is excited by the return of talented running back Le’Veon Bell, who stubbornly held out for over a year in Pittsburgh until he got the money he felt he deserved from New York for being a high-level, dual-threat out of the backfield.
Bell’s new team, the New York Jets, may not be a perennial Super Bowl contender like his last team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were, but with him now on a roster that already has arguably one of the best up-and-coming young quarterbacks in Sam Darnold and a brand new leadership crew, hopes are high that the other team from New York is finally on the rebound.
Here we take a closer look at Le’Veon Bell’s unique situation and track his journey to the Jets as well as examine the odds and predictions of his rushing yards and touchdowns for the upcoming 2019 NFL season.
Le’Veon Andrew Bell Sr. is a 27-year-old NFL running back who was born in 1992 in Reynoldsburg, Ohio to Lisa A. Bell, who, along with her own father, have been lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
A three-sport athlete in high school (football, basketball, and track), Bell was selected first-team All-Ohio Capital Conference Ohio Division in football as a senior and second-team All-OCC Ohio division honors in basketball as a junior.
Bell was a two-star recruit (ESPN.com) and had limited college scholarship offers, but with the help of his high school principal and father figure, Donis Toler Jr., Bell received an offer from Michigan State after some of their athletes got in trouble, opening up more scholarships and causing a sudden need at running back.
After three seasons at Michigan State, Bell had rushed 671 times for 3,346 total yards, averaging 5 yards per carry with 33 touchdowns and was considered the fifth-best running back in the 2013 NFL Draft.
A second-round pick (48th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell missed his first few NFL games due to a foot injury, but in the 13 games he played his rookie year he posted 289 total touches for 1,259 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns.
Bell has proven to be a legitimate dual-threat soft-handed running back who can (when healthy) easily put up +1,000 yards on the ground and +600 yards in the air per season, and in today’s pass-heavy NFL, being able to both run and catch out of the backfield is becoming a must for running backs.
In 2016, Le’Veon Bell set two NFL records when the Pittsburgh Steelers went to the playoffs, becoming the first NFL player to run the ball for over 150 yards in his first two postseason games along with rushing for the most ever yards in an NFL player’s first two playoff games, 337.
Bell has nine Pittsburgh Steelers franchise records to his name, including most rushing yards per game (86.3), most receptions by a running back (307) and most rushing yards in a game (236 in 2016).
Nickname Note: Known for his patience while waiting for blockers to create running lanes that he suddenly accels into, Bell has been dubbed the “Great Hesitator” by CBS sportscaster Phil Simms.
Bell and his then-teammate LeGarrette Blount were arrested for a DUI and marijuana possession in August of 2014, so the NFL suspended Bell for the first four games of the 2015 season.
That was dropped to three games and then after a successful appeal, it was finally dropped to two games, which Bell sat out to begin the 2015 season.
But Bell suffered a season-ending injury (torn MCL) in Week 8 of that same season and ended up only playing in 6 games that year.
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on Bell in 2017, and though he was not at all happy about not being given a long-term deal, he played the season under the tag and posted 406 touches for 1,946 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns.
Bell made it be known that if the Steelers tried to place the franchise tag on him again, then he would be willing to sit out the entire season, and that’s exactly what happened as Bell turned down the $14.5 million that he would have made by refusing to show up all season.
The team finally announced they would not attempt to put the franchise tag on Bell again for the 2019 season, making him a free agent once the NFL season officially began in March.
The New York Jets needed a solid runner to give their second-year strong-armed quarterback, Sam Darnold, a rushing attack to balance off his passing game.
The Jets gave Bell a four-year deal worth $52.5 million with $35 million of that money guaranteed, making him the second-highest paid running back in the NFL behind the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley.
Bell wanted a long-term deal that valued his dual-threat capabilities and got it in New York, but whether taking a year off from the NFL will prove helpful or devastating to the young pass-catching running back has, of course, yet to be determined.
For more details on Bell’s journey to the Jets, please read our prior coverage: Le’Veon Bell Settles For Jets and Less Money Improving Their Super Bowl Odds
Last season, the New York Jets had a rushing attack that was ranked 26th overall in the league after averaging just 101.4 total yards on the ground per game and tied for 23rd in scoring after posting just 11 total rushing touchdowns, one of the many reasons the front office fired head coach Todd Bowles and much of his staff.
The Jets’ best runner last season was Isaiah Crowell, who, in 13 games, ran the ball 143 times for 685 yards and 6 touchdowns, numbers that ranked him 31st among his peers.
Now the Jets are being led by Adam Gase, the recently fired coach of the Miami Dolphins (a team that, by the way, had a rushing attack ranked 18th last year) and the Jets offense is now being coordinated by Dowell Loggains, who was also recently doing the same job for the Dolphins, so the team will be game-planning from scratch and the entire roster, not just Bell, will be new to the system.
Regardless, Bell’s main job in 2019 will be to just be Le’Veon Bell and cause opponents to focus less on shutting down Darnold, their young interception-prone quarterback, and force them to have to game plan around Bell’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and run with it afterwards as well as his tendency to wait patiently for his lanes as opposed to the typical running back method of hitting the holes with shoulders down.
It’s obvious by the odds below that even the oddsmakers are unsure of how well Bell will play after sitting out an entire offseason and season because regardless of how hard he worked on his own, being away from the fast pace of the professional game for that long could be tough to recover from.
Now the plus side of that is that after a year free of NFL hits and without the grind of a football season, Bell is fully healthy and completely rested, so the man who complained about being underpaid and over-played will now get a chance to prove how appreciative he is of his new team and his generous new deal.
Below we take a look at the two futures bets currently being offered on Le’Veon Bell and based on his past stats, we analyze the choices.
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Of the five seasons that Le’Veon Bell has played in the NFL, he has rushed the ball for over 1,100.5 yards in three of them:
There is no doubt that Bell will get a lot of touches for the Jets in 2019, and new head coach Gase and new offensive coordinator Loggains will certainly be game-planning around their new running and catching stud.
So bottom line here, if Bell can stay healthy, and that’s a mighty big if for a guy who has been sitting out for over a year, there is a great chance that he will put up over 1,100.5 yards.
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Remove 2015 from the equation – the one season Bell only played in 6 games – and you can see the number of touchdowns Bell has rushed for is fairly consistent:
But this season, Bell isn’t running behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line, which, back when he was playing in 2017, was a bit better than the Jets line, though the one that will now be blocking for him produced that aforementioned 26th ranked running attack last season.
It’s also important to note that last season in just 13 games Crowell rushed for 6 touchdowns with the Jets, so a better runner like Bell – again, if he stays healthy, and that’s a BIG IF – could easily cover the over here and rush for eight or more touchdowns in 2019.
It will be a new Jets system for everyone, though, so a lot of Bell’s success will depend on how well Gase and company can ease the franchise through their latest transition.
Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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