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Making the Leap, No. 4: Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell

Around The League will profile the top 25 players we see Making the Leap in 2014. No. 4 on the list: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell.

Why Bell is on the list


It's easy to see why the Steelers were so eager to make Le'Veon Bell a key part of their gameplan during the running back's rookie season.

Bell missed the first three weeks of the season while recovering from a foot sprain, but immediately took on a heavy workload upon his debut. The Steelers found different ways to get the ball in the hands of their 2013 second-round pick -- screens, direct snaps, draws, go routes. Bell's versatility makes him a true three-down back.

Bell's abilities jump out at you on tape. He's a sleek, powerful runner with quick feet, special cutting ability and good vision. He routinely turned 1-yard losses into 7-yard gains. His confidence built as the season wore on: He averaged 4.0 yards per carry in his final five games after averaging 3.2 yards in his first eight games.

The Steelers delivered an uncharacteristic offensive performance in 2014, ranking 27th in the league in rushing. That will change this season, and you can buy in on the talk from coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley that the Steelers are going to commit to the run.

That's very good news for Bell, who's going to eat even with some new company on the running back depth chart. Talent plus opportunity are intersecting here. Bell is set up for big things.

Obstacles


LeGarrette Blount shouldn't be dismissed as a threat to take touches from Bell. Blount signed for clear backup money in free agency, but he was also easily the best running option the New England Patriots had by the end of last season. Look no further than Blount's 166-yard, four-touchdown playoff performance against the Indianapolis Colts in January. The big man can make plays, and he'll be a tempting red-zone option for Haley.

We also expect some action for Dri Archer, the team's third-round pick and the fastest player in the 2014 draft class. Archer's upside as a rookie is in the return game and perhaps as a gadget player on offense. Bell and Blount will carry the day if they can stay healthy.

Speaking of which, Bell missed a month with a mid-foot sprain last season, then suffered a nasty-looking concussion on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. Both injuries are in the rearview, but they warrant mentioning.

2014 expectations


On the right, you can watch video of Bell's first pro touchdown. The play offers a nice snapshot of his skill set. Bell makes a Viking defender miss in the backfield, knowingly bounces to the outside, then uses his speed to get to the pylon. Phil Simms, calling the game for CBS, remarked of the play: "Everything you want in a running back we saw that time."

More Bell athleticism on display: Week 16 at Lambeau, Bell busts into the second level, leap frogs a defender, then carries multiple Packers defenders to the turf for a 25-yard gain. Have I mentioned Bell is fun to watch?

The Steelers plan to lean on the type of fast-paced approach that sparked an offensive surge for the team in the back end of last season. Bell's abilities as a blocker and receiver should keep him on the field consistently.

Even with Blount getting his share, Bell will be a major centerpiece of Pittsburgh's offense in '14. We expect him to clear 300 touches. He could exceed that benchmark easily. A healthy Bell can clear 1,300 rushing yards, 70 receptions and 12 total touchdowns.

That's star production from a potentially special player.

In the latest "Around The League Podcast" the guys offer up their personal top 10 lists on the eve of the "Top 100" finale.

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