NFL Cornerstones: Running Back

Cornerstone players will be a recurring theme on Second Look Sports where I look at each position in a certain sport and I choose a cornerstone player to build my franchise around. I have a couple of parameters for this selection though. I will factor in age, potential, injury history, experience, reputation and production. I think this should be a fun and interesting topic to discuss on here. I hope you all agree.

The selection: LeVeon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Honorable Mentions: Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill, Matt Forte

Adrian Peterson made some headlines yesterday by finally returning to the Minnesota Vikings and acting like he wants to play football. It got me around to thinking who the best running back to build a team around could be. Peterson is now 30 and likely will start to see some of his wear and tear really bring him down. His off the field issues are definitely not too appealing either. Needless to say, Peterson is not the selection. A couple of other injury prone runners in DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster also find themselves missing from this list.

LeVeon_BellInstead, the selection is the one and only LeVeon Bell from Pittsburgh. He is not perfect but in terms of what he is capable of, this is a no brainer. He only has two seasons under his belt and at 23 years old, Bell looks like he is going to be a bell cow running back in the NFL for quite some time.

He might not always be racking up 100 yards, but when he gets the ball, he consistently produces. Bell ranked in yards per carry this season with 4.7 per attempt. The Steelers’ superstar put up incredible totals as well ranking second in the league with 1,361 rushing yards. Bell is one of the NFL’s best backs when it comes to picking up yards on the ground.

But this is a passing league now, so rushing is no longer as heavily valued. That doesn’t matter for Bell because he is incredible as a receiver. The Michigan State product hauled in 83 receptions last season, second to only Matt Forte among running backs. His 854 yards receiving also ranked first among all backs. These weren’t dink and dunk plays either as his average per reception was 10.3 yards, good for second in the league for running backs. He continue to move after the grab as well, finishing second in the league in yards after catch.

Bell is a dual threat back. He had the second most yards from scrimmage this past season and had an unreal 5.94 yards per touch, which, excluding kick and punt returns, was tops in the NFL. For some reference, DeMarco Murry, who led the league in yard from scrimmage, averaged only 5.03 yards per touch. Bell was the most effective offensive player in the league this season when he had the ball, and I expect that to continue.

On top of all of his success, Bell also continues to show his sure hands. In two seasons, Bell has only one career fumble, including none this past year. On 662 career touches, Bell has lost the ball just once.

There are a couple of downsides with Bell though. He has a poor track record with drugs and has been suspended for three games because of marijuana use. Not having your best player on the field is not something you want to occur regularly. Additionally, he has no playoff experience, having missed Pittsburgh’s only game this season due to injury. Bell is also not much of a scorer, tallying only 19 total touchdowns in his first two years. Only LeSean McCoy has scored fewer touchdowns in that timespan among the players I considered.

Despite that, Bell is likely the best all-around offensive weapon in the NFL right now. He will continue to grow in the coming years and hopefully mature to the point where he is not getting suspended for drug use. There is no doubt in my mind though that Bell is the premier running back going forward and will be for years to come.


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