When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, there were questions about his ability to succeed in the NFL with his general lack of elite speed. Bell's work ethic and internal drive have proven to be the difference maker for him and now he is one of, if not the, best all-around running backs in the league.
"I think he is capable of being the very best," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said at the annual owners meeting. "I have a great deal of respect for what that phrase means. And I know that he does too. So his pursuit of that is going to be steeped in work and preparation and growth."
Bell's growth began at his pro day with his alma mater, Michigan State. He weighed 244 lbs. and was more of an Eddie Lacy-style hard-nosed running back, than an elusive pass catcher. Tomlin reportedly told him that success in the NFL would require weight loss and improved speed.
Questions then arose about Bell's speed at the NFL Scouting Combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, fifteenth among running backs who ran before the NFL Draft.
In his first season, Bell averaged 3.5 yards per carry and racked up 399 receiving yards in 13 games. It was a solid rookie campaign in which he finished third in the NFL among rookie rushers, but didn't seem to be enough for Bell. In the offseason, he managed to lose weight and reported to the 2014 training camp around 225 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than his days at Michigan State.
The offseason work showed in his play, with Bell finishing with the second-most overall yards in the NFL with improved explosiveness, averaging 1.2 yards per attempt more in 2014 than his rookie year. The explosiveness was especially evident in the Steelers first game against Cleveland when he used his speed and field vision to get into open space and make defenders miss. Possibly one of the best runs over Bell's short career.
On top of his improved running skills, he also became the best receiving back in the league, gaining 854 yards through the air and averaging just over 53 yards per game. At 6-feet 2-inches and lightning quick, Bell has the ability to get open and the vision to rack up significant yards after catch, not to mention exploiting linebackers creating mismatches for opposing defenses.
"He still is very much a young man," Tomlin continued. "The thing I like about him is that he is committed to getting batter and working at his craft on a daily basis. That's what he has shown me in the two years I have worked with him."
With the work ethic to improve throughout his career and the confidence of his head coach, Bell should continue to tear up the league for years to come, and develop into a running back who isn't simply 'capable' of being the best, but a running back who is simply the best.