Sophomore slumps hit NFL running backs hard, according to statistics

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Rotoworld compared numbers of the top rookie running backs over the past 10 years and the majority of them failed to improve from their rookie years to their sophomore years. What kind of fate awaits Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell?

A few key stats to consider when projecting Le'Veon Bell's sophomore year, as written by Rotoworld's Adam Levitan:

Between 2003 and 2012, 33 rookie running backs have rushed for 600 or more yards. 22 of them have suffered a decline in yardage as sophomores.

Between 2003 and 2012, 18 rookie running backs (with 600+ yards) have rushed for seven or more touchdowns. 13 of them have suffered a decline in touchdowns as sophomores. Jonathan Stewart stayed stagnant. Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Joseph Addai and Domanick Williams scored more as sophomores.

Between 2003 and 2012, four rookie running backs (with 600+ yards) averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry: Matt Forte, Knowshon Moreno, Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson. All four of those suffered a decline in both yardage and touchdowns as sophomores.

Those are some heavy numbers, and they suggest, statistically speaking, Bell will likely see a decrease in yards in 2014.

Here's why he won't.

You can't argue with history. There's no denying Levitan's research. But is Bell closer to the career arcs of, say, Marshawn Lynch or Trent Richardson? Not to suggest Bell will match Lynch carry-per-carry, but Bell's multi-dimensional skill set keeps him on the field more often, and the Steelers' fluid offense keys off the no-huddle, meaning Bell will get plenty of looks from single-back formations with receivers spread out wide. Bell's greatest ability is, contrary to popular thought, not his power, but his quickness. He moves well in space, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is looking to throw the ball from those formations but will check into a run if he has the numbers.

BTSC broke down Roethlisberger's decision tree recently. This kind of a system opens the game up for running backs - and something similar to it explains Knowshon Moreno's uptick in production in 2013.

To be fair, the addition of LeGarrette Blount will likely limit Bell's opportunities (we feel Blount will get more carries than many feel he will), but Bell will still be the primary back because of the spontaneous nature of the no-huddle offense (something the team is much better equipped to run with Bell on the field as opposed to Blount). But sophomore slumps aside, Bell should improve as a runner and his opportunities should be frequent enough to think he can top the 1,000 yard mark in his second season.

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