The 49ers have three talented running backs on the roster heading into 2013. The ageless one, Frank Gore, enters his ninth season in the NFL coming off back-to-back 1,200 yard, eight touchdown seasons. The emergence of Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James has also allowed Gore to stay relatively healthy the last two years.
Hunter was a great spark and change of pace in 2011 and most of 2012 until going down with a torn Achilles. Hunter's injury allowed James to prove his abilities and he did just that, including a big touchdown run against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game.
Still, with Gore getting older and both Hunter and James filling similar roles and playing styles, the 49ers may look to draft a bigger back in the 2013 NFL Draft. One possibility is Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell.
Weight: 230 lbs
Vertical Jump: 31.5"
Broad Jump: 9'10"
3-cone drill: 6.75
- Size: At 6'1" and 230 lbs, Bell could be everything Brandon Jacobs wasn't. He's actually dropped about 12-15 lbs since the season ended so he's capable of playing bigger if need be. He's a brute, powerful between-the-tackles running back that could be useful in short yardage situations and near the goal line.
- Hands: For his size, Bell isn't just short yardage back. He caught 78 passes in his three year career at Michigan State, including 35 his junior year and 32 his senior year. He's demonstrated soft hands and ability turn up field quickly at the combine and at MSU's pro day.
- Quickness: While Bell isn't the fastest RB (at his size, who would be?) he does possess above average lateral quickness to pick through traffic. Bell is mostly a north/south runner but shows glimpses of quick cuts off his blocks.
- Initial burst: Due to his size, I'd like to see Bell hit the hole hard every time he touches the ball. Occasionally, Bell will tip-toe through a hole like he's a speed back waiting for the lane to clear.
- New rule change: You'll notice in many of Bell's games, he is used to lowering his head when facing contact. Starting in 2013, that'll draw a penalty in the NFL. The good news is, it'll be just as new to the other running backs in the league. It still might be a tougher adjustment for a big back used to fighting for extra yards.
- Lack of speed: Stretch plays have become a staple in most NFL offenses. Bell isn't fast enough to turn the corner if there isn't a cutback lane. He also has a tendency to be too patient and follow his blockers too long, allowing for defenses to swarm to the ball.
Doing your homework: Check out Bell's game vs. Iowa below. You can also see other games against Northwestern, Boise State, Minnesota and Wisconsin here at DraftBreakdown.com.
Why he fits the 49ers:
The 49ers brought in Brandon Jacobs last year with the hope of getting better in short yardage and goal-line situations. Jacobs ended up being a bust and was released before the season ended. While the 49ers were able to solve their short yardage situations with new quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pistol formation, there could still be an argument made for a true north/south runner capable of moving the chains.
Bell could be used in short yardage situations in 2013 and then be moved to a more prominent role if Gore is not back with the Niners beyond this season. He would be an exceptional compliment to James and Hunter with all three exhibiting excellent hands out of the backfield.
Why he might not fit the 49ers:
It's already a crowded backfield and the 49ers have Jewel Hampton on the practice squad. Reports on Hampton indicate he could be ready to make the jump to the 53-man roster but, of course, that remains to be seen.
Bell is likely to be a day two draft pick, anywhere from the second to fourth round. If the 49ers are thinking running back at all that early, they might be more inclined to take a chance on Marcus Lattimore if the plan would be to have whichever running back is drafted sit out most of the year.
What they're saying:
- NFL.com's Bucky Brooks says Bell fits the mold of a prototype NFL back:
He's a hard-nosed, violent runner with speed, strength and power who excels at running through tacklers inside. Bell attacks defenders with an intimidating tenacity and toughness, but he's nimble enough to bounce to the perimeter when creases emerge on the outside. Those skills have enabled him to consistently find running room despite facing eight-man front on most downs.
- CBS Pittsburgh caught up with Bell after a dinner meeting with Steeler coaches:
When comparing himself to some current running backs, Bell said, "I would say it’s a mixture of two guys. [Atlanta Falcons RB] Steven Jackson’s size and frame and speed, I compare to him. My running style compares to [Houston Texans RB] Arian Foster. He’s more of an upright runner, a zone runner, a one-cut-and-go guy. That’s who I pattern my game after."
- SB Nation's Dan Kadar has Bell at No. 150 in his top 200 final rankings.
- You can check out Bell's stats here at CFB.com.
Bell is a very physical and strong running back. He runs with authority and would be a nice fit with running back coach Tom Rathman. No matter where he goes, I think Bell will have a solid NFL career. He doesn't project as an every down back given his lack of top-end speed and would be well suited when paired with a small, shifty running mate.
Running backs the size of Bell don't come along too often. Guys like him are the last thing defenses want to see on the field in the fourth quarter. There is nothing more demoralizing in the NFL than knowing your opponent is going to run the ball late in a game and there's nothing you can do to stop it. If Bell ends up in the right situation and has the necessary compliments around him, he could very well be the guy terrorizing defenses late in games.