Secret Superstar: Joique Bell

It seems the Lions will once again go as far as their offense can carry them, but with this Secret Superstar lurking in the backfield the hard work may not ...

| 4 years ago

Secret Superstar: Joique Bell

Going from a playoff appearance to a 4-12 record wasn’t exactly what the Detroit Lions had in mind for a successful 2012. Despite Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking season, it was a year that couldn’t be classed as anything short of a massive disappointment. Still, head coach Jim Schwartz kept his job and the team now has to find a way back to the postseason.

They opted to use their top draft pick on pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah after Cliff Avril signed in Seattle but, with a defense that still looks vulnerable, the pressure is once again on the offense to produce. With Johnson established as their primary weapon, they looked to address a faltering running game with the addition of Reggie Bush.

Now, Bush is coming off two seasons in Miami where he a times threatened to be the player he seemed to be coming out of USC in 2006, but is he really the right fit in Detroit? Well, maybe it’s not so much him not being the right fit, and more the Lions not realizing what they already have on the roster.

Joique Bell impressed us enough on his 392 snaps on the field to be named as our Secret Superstar and, despite the Lions signing Bush, we’re hopeful we’ll get to see even more of him in 2013 and beyond.

Struggling to Make an Impact

As a senior in college Bell was the recipient of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is awarded to the best player in Division II, after rushing for 2,084 yards and 29 touchdowns in his final season at Wayne State. While those stats are eye popping, coming at as low a level as they did, he was overlooked in the 2010 NFL Draft.

After not hearing his name called on draft day, Bell signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills. He didn’t do enough to make the final roster however, settling for a spot on the Bills’ practice squad. He would bounce between five teams that year, including two stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, but saw the field only on special teams for them and the Indianapolis Colts.

Finishing his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints, Bell didn’t play at all in 2011. It took until 2012 for him to finally get his chance on offense, this time with the Lions.

Missed Tackle Forcing Machine

Though he wasn’t the focal point of the Lions’ offense, or even their rushing attack, Bell made the most of his limited opportunities. Seeing just 82 carries, Bell forced 11 missed tackles and averaged 2.99 Yards After Contact Per Carry. That included his Week 6 performance against the Philadelphia Eagles where he forced four missed tackle from just seven carries.

He was even more impressive as a receiver however, forcing 15 missed tackles on his 52 receptions. That was highlighted by a performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4 that saw him force four missed tackles from six receptions, including two on a single play.

With the Lions facing 3rd-and-10 with 4:00 left in the game, Bell caught the ball out of the backfield. He span away from safety Jamarca Sanford then avoided linebacker Jasper Brinkley and finished the play inside the Vikings’ 10 yard line. That play shows Bell at his very best, light on his feet and tough for opposing defenders to get their hands on. Basically, on a limited sample size, Bell was everything Reggie Bush was advertised to be. And yet he’ll likely find his opportunities limited again, at least as the 2013 season begins, in no small part due to the Bush signing.

A Move That Doesn’t Make Sense

It’s not so much that Bush is a bad player — he’s not. It’s just that ever since his college days he’s been billed as a Marshall Faulk-type dual threat, who everyone appears to still be waiting to see fulfil those lofty expectations. His best seasons have come the past two years in Miami, so it was a little strange to see him recently proclaim excitement over the similarities he sees between the Lions’ offense and the one he was part of in New Orleans.

After all, in his five years in New Orleans he never had a better rushing yardage output than the 581 yards he put up in 2007, and never again came close to the 742 receiving yards he racked up as a rookie in 2006.

The signing of Bush doesn’t fill you with confidence that the Lions realize what they have in Bell. Here’s a look at how they stacked up in terms of their ability to make opposing tacklers miss in 2012:


 CarriesReceptionsMT ForcedYAC Per CarryElusive Rating
Joique Bell8252262.9958
Reggie Bush22735362.0628.3

Bush may have forced more missed tackles over the full season, but those 10 extra missed tackles came on 128 more touches. The Lions absolutely needed to upgrade their rushing attack heading into this season, but does Bush coming in and stealing touches away from Bell, in a role that Bell had impressed in, really represent an upgrade? Hopefully, Bell will still see his share of the ball in 2013 but with Bush and Mikel Leshoure to compete with he may be forced to make the most of limited opportunities again. Either way he’ll still likely make an impact when he does get on the field.


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| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • editstet

    You guys are mixing things up. Bell faced defenses that didn’t game plan for him, Bush did. It is a HUGE difference. They played soft defenses for him and he was put in position for open field plays by those soft defenses. Back in 1980, Dexter Bussey averaged 5 yards a carry, nearly a full yard more than Billy Sims out of the same backfield. By your reasoning, the Lions then should have handed the ball to Bussey and left Sims in the lurch. What you guys are demonstrating is why you are not professionals but amateurs at what you do. Pretty analysis. Pretty dumb.

    • RandomPasserBy

      Decent response, except for the last part. Let your argument speak for itself. People can disagree without the name calling (which, honestly, detracts from the argument).

  • George Bluth


    Bush was a 3rd down back for years in New Orleans and didn’t even play the position all the much better than Bell did last year(that is what Bell was), if he was better at all. The Lions needed to improve their run game but instead added someone that might be a slightly better 3rd down back then Bell.

    You can tell yourself teams are game planning to stop Bush(No one has been scared of him since 2006) and that he is going to open things up when in reality they might get a slightly better player and could very well be blocking a better( and MUCH cheaper) player from seeing the field.

    I bet to justify to the Bush signing they will force feed him the ball, like New Orleans did to justify the #2 pick they spent on him, well seeing very little in return. It is no surprise the New Orleans offense was much better in 2009 when they started giving Pierre Thomas the ball more and improved even more in 2011 when they replaced Bush with Darren Sproles.

    • waterboy

      They have to use Bush properly. He is not an every down back and has no business running between tackles. If you get him in space he is a nightmare for defenses. He is not young but he hasn’t had a lot of wear. Part of the problem with Bush in Miami is he wanted to carry the ball 25 times a game and he is not suited for that. Bushes upside will depend on Detroit’s OC. If they use him properly – he can catch – he will reshaped opponent’s defensive game plans.

  • Chris

    I was (still is) hoping that Bell would take carries away from LeShoure. Nothing against the guy, but he doesn’t make big plays and he doesn’t even have the power to differentiate between him and Bell. I thought Smith and Bell should have been the Lions primary rushers. Even Best, when healthy, was skittish out of the backfield and only thrived in the passing game. I hope to see Bell getting more touches this season. I hope he really forces the coaches to keep him in the game, even if its in a 2-back set with Bush.

  • waterboy

    My son and I are dolphin fans and we hated to see reggie go. He is a match up nightmare for any linebacker and most db’s. We have assumed the lions as our nfc favorite. However, RB must have SPACE. This between the tackle stuff is nonsense. Hope the lions use him correctly because he will hurt your opponents badly.