Steelers OC Haley raves about rookie RB Bell
The case will be no different for Le'Veon Bell, who was the second running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. Sure, the Steelers have a substantial hole in their backfield, but Bell is going to have to prove through hard work and preseason productivity that he is ready to handle the bulk of the work in the backfield. A rookie has not led the Steelers in rushing since 7th overall pick Tim Worley did it in 1989. Even 23rd overall pick Rashard Mendenhall was asked to take a back seat as a rookie in 2008.
However, if there has been any rookie over the past 20 years who is capable of leading the Steelers in rushing, it looks like Bell has the best chance. Not only did the Steelers pass on Eddie Lacy - who brings a similar physicality and was widely considered a better prospect - to get Bell, but Bell is already drawing praise from his new offensive coordinator.
The raves began just a few days after Bell was drafted, when offensive coordinator Todd Haley acknowledged that he expects Bell to make an immediate impact. "He's coming from a pro-style offense," Haley said. "A lot of the runs will be very similar to the runs that he was running (at Michigan State), so I expect him to get into the mix and be a factor."
A few days later, Haley told the media that he views Bell as a "three-down back, which is a big thing for us." He also mentioned that Bell was the Steelers' top-rated running back in the draft, meaning they would have selected him over Giovani Bernard, who was selected 11 picks before Bell. "This is a big guy that can play like a big back," Haley said. "And yet he can also get outside some and catch the ball." Haley was also quoted as saying, "I think (Bell) puts us back in a place where we can have a chance to run the ball and throw the ball out of the backfield successfully."
If you think that's all the praise Haley has given Bell, you're mistaken. The often abrasive offensive coordinator went on to compare Bell to a former All-Pro runner. "Eddie George physical traits," Haley said of his new weapon. "He looks like a workhorse back. He's not a guy that you'd shy away from giving it to him 30 times a game."
Eddie George racked up 315+ rushing attempts in each year of his career, excluding his twilight season as a backup in Dallas. Bell has shown that he could potentially be that same kind of workhorse, as he ran the ball 382 times at Michigan State last season and racked up 414 total touches. It appears that the Steelers could be feeding this beast early and often in 2013.
The Steelers' backfield is rounded out by Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and Baron Batch.
Dwyer and Redman were both disappointing last season, running for 4.0 and 3.7 yards per attempt, respectively. They are both signed under $1.3 million restricted free agent tenders. Dwyer is currently being dangled as trade bait, and there is heavy speculation that if they can't find a suitor for him, either he or Redman will be released before the start of the season.
Stephens-Howling was a free agent acquisition brought on mostly for the purpose of returning kicks, but may also serve a role on passing downs.
Batch is a seventh-round pick who averaged 2.0 yards on his 25 rushing attempts last season.
It appears that Bell is the heavy favorite to be featured in the backfield as a rookie - something that the Steelers have not done in over 20 years. He's essentially a lock for early-down and goal-line work, and Haley sounds like he expects Bell to take over the third-down role as well. Among rookies, Bell is perhaps the safest bet for fantasy production in 2013, and is shaping up to be a potentially solid RB2.