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What to do with Le’Veon Bell? The Steelers’ alternatives

In the final installment of this 3-part series, we examine what the Steelers’ options are if Le’Veon Bell doesn’t return.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Here we are getting ready to delve into the final installment of my series on, “What to do with Le’Veon Bell?” This is the third exercise where we will search out some alternate options for the Steelers’ backfield not only for 2018, but for the foreseeable future.

  • First, we need to take a look at the options that are already under contract, and on the offseason roster. Here they are:

James Conner

College-Pitt Age-22 Height-6’1” Weight-233lbs. Experience-R

Career Touches-730 Touches (College & NFL)

Bottom Line: Conner is a very intriguing former 3rd Round Pick, that showed an ability to run downhill, and produce a healthy YPC behind this offensive line in his rookie season. He was not utilized in the passing game, but has a history at Pitt of being a reliable checkdown target. Needs to show he is healed from an MCL injury that required surgery, but could be used as the power element in a two-back system to replace Bell.

James Summers

College-East Carolina Age-23 Height-6’3” Weight-210lbs. Experience-R

Career Touches-278 Touches (College &NFL)

Bottom Line: Summers was signed to the offseason 90 man roster. He is a former college QB at East Carolina that converted to a RB as a Senior, and showed a versatile skill set as a runner and receiver. Lots of growth potential, just not someone to be trusted in going into training camp.


  • Next we need to examine those RB who were on the roster last season, but that are scheduled to be a Free Agent.

Stevan Ridley-UFA

College-LSU Age-29 Height-5’11” Weight-220lbs. Experience-6

Career Touches-1,122 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Bottom Line: Was a serviceable backup after being signed due to Conner’s MCL injury. Showed fresh legs after dealing with some injury issues that limited his skill set. Would be a nice depth signing due to his experience, and winning background, but should not be counted on as a key member of the backfield.

Fitzgerald Toussaint-UFA

College-Michigan Age-27 Height-5’9” Weight-204lbs. Experience-4

Career Touches-632 Touches(College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Bottom Line: A Special Team’s player, who got thrust into the RB rotation a few years ago. He simply does not possess an above average NFL RB skill set, nothing more than an end of the roster player who shouldn’t be made a priority to return.


  • So now that we know about the players in the building, as well as the Free Agent RB options that we are familiar with we need to start exploring outside help. We start with some RB’s that I had mentioned in my Tag & Trade Theory. I am going to examine my top 3 trade targets.

Duke Johnson Jr.-Cleveland Browns

College-Miami(Fl.) Age-24 Height-5’9” Weight-206lbs. Experience-4

Career Touches-1,042 Touches (College & NFL)

Remaining Contract-1yr/$2,082,523 (Free Agent in 2019)

Bottom Line: A dynamic RB who would be best served to be a two back system. Is an effective runner, and elite level receiver as a RB. Johnson Jr. and Conner would be able to efficiently replace the production of Bell’s at a much lesser cost, as well as splitting the wear and tear on their bodies, which should effectively making them fresher for deeper playoff runs. The front office would definitely have to work out a long term deal after trade, so we are not left with this problem again in 2019.

Theo Riddick-Detroit Lions

College-Notre Dame Age-26 Height-5’10” Weight-201lbs. Experience-5

Career Touches-840 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Remaining Contract-2yrs/$8.525m (Free Agent in 2020)

Bottom Line: Riddick is a very accomplished receiving threat for the Lions, who can be an effective runner in moderation. He is among the leaders of RB’s in receptions in the last 5 years. Also he is signed to a cost effective deal. Has dealt with minor injuries, and needs to be in a two back system to stay healthy.

J.D. McKissic-Seattle Seahawks

College-Arkansas State Age-24 Height-5’11” Weight-193lbs. Experience-2

Career Touches-421 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Remaining Contract-ERFA this offseason/RFA in 2019/UFA in 2020

Bottom Line: After floating around at the end of the Falcons and Seahawks roster, opportunity came knocking in the form of ineffectiveness and injury in Seattle’s backfield in 2017. McKissic is a converted college WR, that really was a dangerous weapon for Russell Wilson and company. Has and excellent set of hands as can be expected, and has excellent elusiveness and speed. Is on a team friendly contract with just making a roster for the first time this past year.


  • Now let’s take a look at some options of some outside Free Agents in 2018, they could be Unrestricted or Restricted, but I am going to focus on 3 key Unrestricted Free Agents, and a Valuable Veteran Unrestricted Free Agent.

Dion Lewis-UFA-New England Patriots

College-Pitt Age-27 Height-5’8” Weight-195lbs. Experience-6

Career Touches-1,092 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Projected Contract according to Spotrac->3ys/$15,002,639 (AAV-$5m)

Bottom Line: Lewis is a dynamic RB, who can make big contributions in the passing game, and as a runner. Dealt with some injuries in the NFL, and even has some trouble with fumbles from time to time, but would be an excellent 1A option to Conner’s 1B option. He would definitely come at a reduced cost comparative to Bell’s.

Jerick McKinnon-UFA-Minnesota Vikings

College-Georgia Southern Age-25 Height-5’9” Weight-205lbs. Experience-4

Career Touches-1,282 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Projected Contract according to Spotrac->4yrs/$16,252,344 (AAV-$4m)

Bottom Line: McKinnon really came into his own after the injury to rookie RB Dalvin Cook. He split carries with Latavius Murray, and already made the comments that he is looking for an opportunity to be the bellcow of someone’s backfield. We have the carrot to dangle in front of him. He blow up the Combine a few year’s ago with his upper-echelon athleticism, and would be an intriguing fit to see put into this offense. Also is the youngest option amongst UFA RB’s.

Rex Burkhead-UFA-New England Patriots

College-Nebraska Age- 27 Height-5’10” Weight-214lbs. Experience-5

Career Touches-921 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Projected Contract according to Spotrac->2yrs/$6,628,203 (AAV-$3.3m)

Bottom Line: Burkhead was one of my favorite guys to target last offseason after a late season cameo apperance with the Bengals. He has excellent balance, and is a efficient runner with a soft set of hands in the passing game, and he is a proficient pass protector. Does not have a lot of wear and tear on him at the NFL level, and he is a very effective Special Teams player as well.

Special Veteran Target

Darren Sproles-UFA-Philadelphia Eagles

College-Kansas State Age-34 Height-5’6” Weight-190lbs. Experience-13

Career Touches-2,203 Touches (College & NFL Reg. Season & Playoffs)

Projected Contract->1yr/$3m-$4.5m

Bottom Line: Darren Sproles is one of the most dynamic all around threats in NFL history, and was considering making 2017 his final year in the NFL, but due to a broken arm and a Torn ACL for which he is ahead of schedule in his rehab in both has recently started to reconsider making another try in 2018. With the Eagles just coming off a Super Bowl victory in which Sproles’s understudy Corey Clement putting on a show with his pass catching abilities I can see Sproles scouting out another team with Super Bowl aspiration, which leads us none other than our Pittsburgh Steelers. Sign him to a one year deal, and then draft a young RB so that he can mentor them to take his place the following hopefully after he is hoisting a Lombardi trophy in his swan song of a season.


  • That leads me to our last option to replace the production that Le’Veon Bell would leave behind, and it is none other than drafting his replacement. Here is some prospects from Early Round Targets to Mid/Late Round Targets.

Early Round Targets

Sony Michel

College-Georgia Age-22 Height-5’11” Weight-215lbs. Class-Senior

Career Touches-654 Touches

Overview: Michel is a dynamite RB who has good power, and speed in the running game, and can make some big time plays in the passing game. Was used in a two back system at Georgia, and could be an impact player in his rookie season.

Rashaad Penny

College-San Diego State Age-22 Height-5’11” Weight-220lbs. Class-Senior

Career Touches-530 Touches

Overview: Penny had one of the hardest jobs to do in all College Football, replace the super productive Donnel Pumphrey, and replace him he did. He put up elite level production, which showed he might just be an overall better NFL prospect than his teammate. With a sturdy build, excellent power, and great long speed for his size, I can envision him making a case for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Ronald Jones II

College-USC Age-20 Height-6’0” Weight-215lbs. Class-Junior

Career Touches-623 Touches

Overview: “RoJo” as he is affectionately called by his fans at USC is a offensive force. He improved his tackle breaking ability as a Junior, which in combination with his tremendous quickness, and speed make him draw comparisons by some to Jamaal Charles. Jones can instantly become a 1A option to team with Conner to make a young stable of RB’s for the foreseeable future. Also will be one of the youngest prospects in this year’s draft, which worked out for us last year. (JuJu Smith-Schuster)

Mid to Late Round Targets

Kalen Ballage

College-Arizona State Age-? Height-6’2” Weight-230lbs. Class-Senior

Career Touches-532 Touches

Overview: Ballage has a lot of eerily close similarities to Bell when he came out of Michigan State, he even made the statement he tries to pattern his game after out dynamic RB. Big, Sturdy frame who has great power when he wants to use it, and underrated slipperiness and speed in the open field. Will be used best in a one cut or zone blocking scheme, which we excel at. Really flashed at Senior Bowl practices, as well as in the game. He was used in a 2 back system, which limited his production, but possesses the natural talent to be the best RB in this draft class. One of my personal favorites in this Draft.

Ito Smith

College-Southern Miss Age-22 Height-5’9” Weight-195lbs Class-Senior

Career Touches-960 Touches

Overview: Ito Smith seems to be a forgotten man amongst the big name RB prospects in this year’s draft, but shouldn’t be because of his ability to be a workhorse at his size. Possessing upper echelon shiftiness, and elite speed, he will be a constant pest for defensive coordinators at the NFL level. Don’t discount this kid just because he doesn’t come from a bigger conference. Reminds me a ton of when Darren Sproles was going through draft process, and the questions that people were having with his game.

Phillip Lindsay

College-Colorado Age-23 Height-5’8” Weight-190lbs. Class-Senior

Career Touches-882 Touches

Overview: Lindsay was the Colorado offense at times. Whether by air or by ground he had his fingerprint on a ton of games. Possessing a scrappy and cerebral skill set in addition to his great speed and underrated strength to break tackles, and pass protect. he will be able to fall right into a RB committee and be a key contributor as well on Special Teams as a coverage man and PR.


In conclusion to my series, I would like to know what you think is the best overall idea in regards to Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am going to include a poll to see just where everyone stands on this issue. Thanks, and I hope you enjoyed my series.

References: Sports Reference-College and Pro,,Spotrac,Fox Sports,,


What do you think is the best action to take with Le’Veon Bell?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Franchise Tag
    (115 votes)
  • 32%
    Tag and Trade
    (461 votes)
  • 31%
    Sign to a Long Term Extension
    (455 votes)
  • 11%
    Sign an Outside Free Agent to Replace Him
    (172 votes)
  • 16%
    Draft a Young RB
    (231 votes)
1434 votes total Vote Now