Recent reports from Pittsburgh suggest that Le’Veon Bell’s prospects for 2014 have taken a significant punch to the face from LeGarrette Blount. Bell’s ADP has declined a bit since these reports first came out, but I’m not concerned. Here’s why I still like Bell.
1. There are enough carries to go around. Reports that Blount will get six-to-eight carries/game have many concerned about Bell’s workload. Last year, in games Bell played, the Steelers gave Felix Jones, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer 67 combined carries. That works out to just over five carries/game. So Blount could get six carries/game without having a significant impact on Bell’s workload at all.
2. He’s the pass catcher. Could Blount eat into Bell’s workload? Sure. If he gets more than five carries/game then Bell’s workload decreases. But Bell has one aspect to his game that Blount does not: pass catching. Bell was one of the better pass-catching RBs in the league last year, while Blount has never been an asset in the pass game. Blount has just 39 career pass targets, while Bell has commanded 66 in just 13 games. Blount’s lack of involvement in the pass game may have something to do with his career 59 percent catch rate, which is well below the 72 percent average for a RB. In his four-year career, Blount has never caught a pass on third or fourth down. Conversely, Bell is consistently targeted regardless of down, and has gotten 25 percent of his receptions on third or fourth down.
Blount poses little risk to Bell’s pass-game involvement. Last year Bell averaged over three receptions and 30 yards receiving per game–that’s over six PPR points/game as a “floor” for Bell, without even factoring in rushing.
3. What about touchdowns? The other consternating report suggests Blount will get the goal-line carries. But is it even reasonable to think that Blount will get “all” the goal-line carries? There are three reasons to believe that Bell should get a decent amount of goal line work.
- First, Blount isn’t an amazing goal-line back. Defining a “goal-line carry” as anything from the 10-yard line in, here’s how Blount’s career carries compare to his backfield mates:
In 2010 and 2011, Blount had more goal line attempts than any other back on his team, but he’s never really dominated a team’s in-close running attempts. In fact, in 2012, Doug Martin received almost five times as many attempts as Blount. Oh, and Doug Martin is one of Le’Veon Bell’s comparable players. In 2013, both Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden got more goal-line work than Blount. It’s not at all clear that Blount has any special ability around the goal line.
- Second, Bell is (nearly) as good as Blount near the goal-line. To reach this conclusion,
I watched the filmI did a simple exercise. I used Pro Football Reference to acquire the last three season’s worth of data for RB attempts from within the 10-yard line. Then, based on the number of attempts, I calculated an expected number of touchdowns. From there, I calculated how well each RB performed vs. expectations. Here’s how Bell and Blount compare.
|Player||Att||Yds||Y/A||TD||TD Rate||Exp. TDs||Value|
Based on their attempts, Blount has produced 1.4 more TDs than expected, which is better than Bell, who has returned just one more TD than expected. But let’s look more closely. First, Bell has more goal-line carries in one season than Blount has acquired in four, which makes me wonder if coaches have ever really thought that highly of Blount’s goal-line ability. Second, it’s not like Bell is bad in this area: he’s still producing TDs at a higher-than-expected rate.
- Third, Todd Haley has only once gone with a single goal-line back. In his career as a head coach and offensive coordinator, here’s how Haley utilizes his backs in goal-line situations.
|Yr||Team||Ld RB Pct||Ld RB|
The only back to get more than 90 percent of a Haley-led team’s goal-line looks is Bell. This could be taken as a signal that Bell is in for a reduced amount of work near the goal-line, which is reasonable. But you could also say that, despite the presence of the previous season’s leading goal-line rusher, Haley liked Bell better than any other back he’s had in these situations. So maybe Bell continues to get the bulk of goal line work.
But even if this does signal a reduction in Bell’s usage near the goal-line, nothing suggests that Bell will be shut out of goal-line work entirely. He should still get the opportunity to punch in plenty of TDs. Although it looks like he should get the opportunity, Haley is under no obligation to follow my suggestions. What if, against all odds, Haley gives Bell zero goal-line work?
Even if you remove every single touchdown he scored, all 11 of his top-24 games were 10+ points in PPR leagues.
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) August 17, 2014
4. Bell is a more complete back. This should be fairly obvious, but let’s review briefly. I’ll take this chance to say that Bell could certainly be more efficient. Last season he posted a fantasy point/snap ratio of 25.4 percent, good for 29th in the league,1 while Blount posted the league’s second-best rate at 36.8 percent. But Bell’s efficiency shouldn’t be a big concern, since plenty of good backs have poor efficiency measures.
Bell is just a better fit for the offense. Pittsburgh reportedly plans to run even more no-huddle plays this year, and Bell is the better bet to be involved in these situations. Bell was involved in 34 percent of Pittsburgh’s no-huddle plays last season. Conversely, Blount was involved in just under 8 percent of New England’s no huddle plays, while fellow non-pass catching back Stevan Ridley was involved in 22 percent.
If Blount is in the game, he’s either running the ball or not involved in the play. That type of predictability can limit an offense’s play calling. So yes, Blount can be an effective runner for the Steelers.3 But if they want to keep a defense on its heels, especially in a no-huddle situation, Bell will be the back that’s on the field.
Pittsburgh ran 241 no-huddle plays last season, and they want to increase that total this year. That’s a significant chunk of plays wherein Bell should get the vast majority of work. Dri Archer doesn’t concern me here, either. Yes, he may have the potential to rip off a big play, but he likely offers little to nothing as a runner, meaning he limits the Steelers to calling pass plays, in the same way Blount limits them to calling run plays. Archer’s comparables are generally uninspiring, as is the history of similarly sized players: since 1990, only four such players have averaged more than 10 yards rushing and receiving per game.
6. Todd Haley…more monogamous than we think? People remember that Todd Haley had the gall to put Jamaal Charles in a timeshare with Thomas Jones back in 2010, and with Larry Johnson in 2009. But that doesn’t mean we should worry about Bell’s workload this year. Despite the timeshare, Jamaal Charles finished both 2009 and 2010 as a top 5 PPR RB. I might also point out that while ultimately responsible, as head coach, for the play calling in Kansas City, Haley wasn’t always calling the plays. When he was a full-time offensive coordinator in 2007 (Arizona, Edgerrin James) and 2013 (Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell), he gave the vast majority of work to just one running back.
Blount is an effective runner, but not a multi-dimensional player like Bell. Archer may be dynamic, but history suggests a minimal imipact. Bell’s superior fit in Pittsburgh’s offense and competence near the goal line should ensure that he gets a workload sufficient to post RB1 numbers.
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- Among RBs with more than 300 snaps. (back)
- By my count, 39 of Bell’s 82 no-huddle plays (48%) were successful in that they produced: four-plus yards on first down, more than 70 percent of yards to go on second down, a first down, or a TD. (back)
- 95 percent of career attempts on 1st or 2nd down. (back)