PITTSBURGH -- Here is the second in a series that takes a closer look at the Pittsburgh Steelers' most recent draft class, with ESPN Insider and former NFL scout Matt Willamson providing his take on every player in it.
Position: Running back
Key stats: Bell rushed for 860 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 399 yards. The former Michigan State star’s 1,259 total yards broke Franco Harris' Steelers record for most yards from scrimmage by a rookie.
His first season: Bell overcame a foot injury that sidelined him for the first three games, becoming the kind of player the Steelers envisioned when they made him one of five running backs taken in the second round of the 2013 draft. Bell’s versatility and blocking ability allowed him to emerge as a three-down back, and he is the gem of the draft class -- at least so far. The winner of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, Bell improved as the season progressed and cemented his status as the Steelers’ feature back for seasons to come.
Looking ahead: As coach Mike Tomlin would say, the arrow is obviously pointing up for Bell, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his final two games. Bell is already a polished receiver and an able blocker, and the 6-foot-1, 244-pounder is only going to get better as a runner now that he has had a season to adjust to the speed of the NFL. Bell should benefit from the zone-blocking scheme new offensive line coach Mike Munchak is expected to implement, and he could put up the kind of numbers in 2014 that makes fantasy owners drool.
Williamson’s take: “I think he’s exceeded expectations. I’ve heard him compared to Matt Forte and I think that’s not too far off, and the reason I say that is because there’s so few backs in the league with his size that can consistently run wide receiver routes, and (the Steelers) use him that way. He showed that he can be a workhorse at Michigan State, and I think he will be (in Pittsburgh), and I think they’ll use him a ton in the receiving game and between the tackles and outside the tackles. I think he’s an NFL feature back.”