If you ask the average NFL fan who the best running back in football was this year, you’ll probably here DeMarco Murray more often than not.
But don’t sleep on Le’Veon Bell. The Pittsburgh Steelers running back had one of the best seasons in recent memory, rushing for 1,361 yards – second only to Murray’s 1,845 – and eight touchdowns. While Murray rushed for almost 500 more yards, he also had 102 more carries. Both averaged 4.7 yards a clip, and Bell finished without a fumble. He also had 83 catches for 854 receiving yards, which ranked second and first, respectively, among running backs.
So yeah, Bell had a brilliant year.
But he injured his knee in a Week 17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and had to miss the Steelers’ playoff game against Baltimore. Pittsburgh lost, 30-17.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Bell said on Gio and Jones. “Being with my team for 17 straight weeks, whenever they needed a big play, they could always turn to me and I could always cash in and make those big plays. So not to be there in that playoff game really sucked for me. It really hurt to watch my team go to battle and I couldn’t go with them.”
Still, if this past season was any indication, Bell, 22, should be one of the top backs in the game for years to come. He had more than 1,200 total yards as a rookie in 2013, but he wasn’t nearly as explosive then as he was this past season.
Dropping 10 pounds will do that for you.
“I think I made that decision I was going to drop some weight at the end of last year,” Bell said. “After my full rookie year, I knew what I needed to work on. I knew what I wanted to get better at. So in the offseason, that’s what I got better at. I trained, I worked on my quickness, dropped some weight, I worked out a little faster, I got a little bit more explosive. It really helped me out during the course of the year. I’m glad that I did that.”
While Bell had to miss the playoffs, his former teammate, LeGarrette Blount, has shined in them. He had 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns in New England’s 45-7 win over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship.
Blount was released by the Steelers in November less than 24 hours after walking off the field toward the end of a Monday Night Football win over Tennessee. Blount did not receive a single carry that game. Bell, meanwhile, got 33 and ran for a career-high 204 yards.
There are conspiracy theorists who say Blount intentionally left the field because he knew he would likely be released and the Patriots may have expressed interest in him beforehand.
Bell isn’t buying it.
“I don’t think that,” he said. “I don’t think he was talking to the Patriots or anything like that while (he was) with the Steelers. When he was with the Steelers, he was all in. Unfortunately, he made a mistake walking off the field during the course of the game. It just wasn’t a professional move on his part. He understands he made a mistake, but I’m glad he’s rebounded from it. He put it in his rearview (mirror). He had a great performance his last performance in the AFC Championship Game. So I’m happy for him and I’m proud of him. I can’t wait to see what he does in the Super Bowl.”
Bell and Blount remain close friends. In fact, they recently hung out in Arizona.
“We’re still close friends to this day,” Bell said. “In the offseason, we’re going to train together. I love him, and he loves me. We’re still real tight friends.”