The Hidden Value of Le’Veon Bell

Lots of debate about whether the Steelers should re-sign Le’Veon Bell. The running game is less important… they have DeAngelo Williams… the arguments imply Bell is a great addition, but not a vital cog to the offense.

Dale Lolley wrote an article on this – focusing on the dynamic elements of Bell and the potentially inflated cap cost to the team if re-signed.

Well, here’s a statistic that should help further prove the need to re-sign Bell – which I think may be perhaps the most telling reason to do so:

In 2014, with Bell, the Steelers had the fifth-best third-down conversion rate in the entire NFL – at 44.7%. In 2015, without Bell, they dropped to below the NFL average – to 17th – to 38.9%. To make matters (much) worse, in the 2015 playoffs, that % plummeted to below 16%. Worst of all playoff teams (and it was equally bad versus the Bengals with Brown in the lineup).

For some additional context, the worst regular-season % was St. Louis at 25.9%. The second-worst post-season team was, remarkably, Denver, still at 5.7% better than the Steelers at 21.7%.

So, what does this all have to do with Bell?

In 2014 Bell was best among all running backs with 41 first down receptions. Half of his receptions went for first downs. That element was sorely missed in 2015- whether by play design or by Roethlisberger’s ability to find him as a check-down option.

Taking that element out of the Steelers offense matters. A lot. Without it the offense becomes less dynamic and less effective.

Far too reliant on the big play.

This more than any other reason maybe why Bell is needed. He moves the chains for an offense that mans a gunslinger at the helm. Splash plays from Antonio Brown and Sammie Coates are magnificent, and deadly.

But Bell’s ability to move the chains – that is foundational football.

The thing that is needed most when you play solid defenses in the playoffs, and perhaps needed even more, when your star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is out for a few games.

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