PFF's top-ranked running back carted off field
Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 graded running back this season (and in 2014), left Sunday’s game against the Bengals with an apparent leg injury.
The Steelers have been decimated by injuries to top players so far this season, with Bell being the latest victim.
Following an average rookie season, when he was taken as the second overall running back in the 2013 NFL Draft (behind Giovani Bernard), Bell has become the predominate player at his position.
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Bell is fourth overall among running backs in elusive rating (71.3), and third in breakaway percentage (44.4). This means he’s not only capable of making things happen on his own, but he can also make the big play when necessary.
That’s not all, though. Not only has Bell demonstrated terrific running ability, but his receiving skills and pass protection are equally elite.
Bell is 17th in yards per route run (0.95) and second in drop rate (0.00). He has failed to drop a single pass this season on 22 catchable balls (through Week 7) and has only dropped four passes in 109 catchable balls the past two seasons combined.
Bell also ranks sixth overall in pass blocking efficiency (96.0), making him the most complete running back in the league, and a player the Steelers will sorely miss if he is forced to miss significant time.
The silver lining is backup RB DeAngelo Williams. Although clearly not as talented as Bell, Williams does possess some quality tools that were on display earlier this season while Bell was serving his two game suspension.
The one area the Steelers will be counting on from the former first-round pick will be his running ability. Williams owns the 16th best running grade this season, ahead of talented players like Dion Lewis and Adrian Peterson.
During his best seasons at Carolina, Williams demonstrated quality elusiveness, including in 2008, when he earned the top run grade in the league, as well as the top elusive rating.
Where Williams can’t be counted on to help—and where the Steelers will miss Bell the most—is in the passing game. Williams has the second-worst receiving grade (45.8) among running backs in the NFL this season.
The good news is that he’s been an effective pass protector over his career, which is admirable considering his shorter stature.
If Le’Veon Bell misses significant playing time, DeAngelo Williams will play a big role. If he can continue to produce as he did in the first two games this season (41 attempts, 204 rushing yards, three touchdowns), and QB Ben Roethlisberger can do his thing, the Steelers may survive without Bell.
Don’t forget, in the Wild Card loss to Baltimore last season—with Bell sideline for a knee injury—Pittsburgh had to rely on the likes of Ben Tate, Josh Harris and Dri Archer. Williams might be a drop-off from Bell, but he’s a significant upgrade over those three.