Le’Veon Bell: Arian Foster Clone?

Editor’s Note: Our writer, Luke O’ Neill, is from Belfast, Ireland, so the differences in spelling are accurate.  We would rather show his knowledge of the American game in his own words rather than “Americanize” his work.
Can Le’Veon Bell be the Steelers’ Arian Foster?
Upon watching some of Le’Veon Bell’s tape from Michigan State, I thought his running style compared favourably to that of the Houston Texans’ superstar rusher, Arian Foster. However, with Bell having never played a down in the NFL, I always held back on making such a grandiose statement (and I always thought stylistically it was a valid comparison, not necessarily talent-wise). Recently, though, Bell has compared himself to Foster, which has made me want to look deeper into the possibility that Bell could become the Steelers’ own superstar running back.
Bell and Foster share a similar size and build, with both backs weighing in at 230lbs (after Bell’s weight loss post-Michigan State), and Bell one inch taller at 6’2″ to Foster’s 6’1″. While Foster did not participate at the NFL Scouting Combine due to a pulled hamstring, here are how his pro day results stack up to Bell’s Combine results – though many feel Foster was still feeling less than 100% at his pro day:
  • 40 yard dash – Foster 4.68, Bell 4.6
  • 20 yard dash – Foster 2.71, Bell 2.61
  • 10 yard dash – Foster 1.62, Bell 1.52
  • 225lb bench press – Foster 23, Bell 24
  • Vertical jump  – Foster 32, Bell 32.5
  • Broad jump – Foster 9’7″, Bell 9’3″
  • 20 yard shuttle – Foster 4.53, Bell 4.39
  • 3 cone drill – Foster 7.09, Bell 6.75

 

In practically every category, Bell ranks ahead of Foster. And, while Foster’s numbers may (or may not) have been affected by his injury, it doesn’t draw from the fact that Bell’s numbers stack up very well for a man of his size. Many perceive that Bell lacks athleticism. This simply isn’t the case. He may not have elite top-end speed, but he has tremendous physical ability.

Both players had productive college careers, with Foster racking up 2,964 rushing yards (good for the second most in Tennesee Volunteers history) to go with 742 receiving yards and 68 total touchdowns. Bell finished his Michigan State Spartans career with 3,346 rushing yards, 531 receiving, and 76 total touchdowns (as well as 219 kick return yards for good measure). This, however, is not en exercise in comparing what these players have done in the past, but how their talents translate to the NFL.
Several teams showed an interest in Foster as an undrafted free agent, and he chose to sign with the Houston Texans as he felt the situation suited him. His instinct was right. Steve Slaton had a very productive season the year before Foster joined with over 1600 total yards and 10 TDs. However, as talented as he was, Slaton was never viewed as a 3-down back, and Foster soon made him expendable, with his ability to catch from the backfield as well as punch the ball in at close range.
Foster’s success can be partially (how much is frequently debated) attributed to the scheme the Texans have implemented over the years, with their zone blocking system highlighting Foster’s patient, smooth, one-cut-and-go style. Bell shares these abilities, with the added bonus of having some open-field moves Foster doesn’t have in his locker (though Foster’s devastating stiff arm   has an affect Bell’s spin move is unlikely to have at the NFL level).
The Steelers, of course, have this season decided to rededicate themselves to the run game, and are adding zone blocking elements to their offense this season. Bell frequently ran zone plays in college, also behind a suspect O-line, and his skills are ideally suited to translate to the professional game. What appeals to me the most about Bell’s potential this year (and beyond) is how smooth a runner he is. He can lay the wood, but he glides across the turf in a similar fashion to Foster that belies their larger statures.
Last season, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer combined for 1383 total yards and 4 touchdowns. This equates to 162 standard scoring fantasy points, or 10.125 per game. With the Steelers promising to return to a “ground and pound offense”, it’s reasonable to expect Bell to receive around 250 carries, around the same amount thatt Matt Forte got last season. Around 40 receptions could also be in play, in the same range Arian Foster and Steven Jackson got.
Bell’s opportunity is further enhanced by the Steelers missing likely missing Heath Miller for at least some, if not a significant part of the upcoming league year. In 2012, Miller had a quietly fantastic season, serving as Roethlisberger’s security blanket in sticky situations, totalling over 800 yards on top of scoring 8 TDs. With few other red zone targets on the roster, Bell has every opportunity to help ease that loss.
I wouldn’t assume that Bell’s first season would be as successful as Foster’s first as starter, where he tallied 2,200 total yards and 18 TDs. However, his impact should allow the Steelers to keep him on the field on all 3 downs, run the ball more successfully, and open the play action passing game. His impact on his real life team may be more significant than on your fantasy team, but make no mistake – Le’Veon Bell is a player you should be targeting in your drafts this summer.
2013 Prediction for Le’Veon Bell
268 carries
1232 yards (4.6 YPC)
36 catches
291 receiving yards
11 total touchdowns
218 fantasy points (standard scoring)

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