Le’Veon Bell could lose touches to versatile rookie

Mandatory Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Mandatory Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /

Pittsburgh Steelers fans may see less of Le’Veon Bell next year and that could be a good thing. Jaylen Samuels gives the team another option at RB.

It’s unusual for a fifth-round pick to alter the playing time of a Pro Bowl running back but it certainly could happen in Pittsburgh. The emergence of Jaylen Samuels as a legitimate alternative in the backfield could lessen the burden the Steelers put on Le’Veon Bell.

Bell’s decision to skip offseason workouts and potentially hold out when training camp begins is going to open the door for all of Pittsburgh’s reserve running backs to cut into his responsibilities. Samuels’ versatility should give him the edge over James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stevan Ridley.

The fact that Samuels is entering the NFL with a chip on his shoulder doesn’t hurt his chances either. The former NC State star admits he feels “disrespected” at the fact that he fell all the way into the fifth round. Of course, none of that matters to Mike Tomlin anymore. He’ll give touches to the players he sees performing the best on the practice field.

It may ultimately be in Bell’s best interest to see Samuels assume a significant role in the Steelers offense. The star rusher is only 26 years old, but Pittsburgh have already put a ton of miles on him during his relatively brief career. Last season he led the team with 321 carries. James Conner finished second with only 32 carries in the regular season.

Then you have to consider the fact that Bell also caught the ball 85 times for 655 yards. That’s a ton of usage. Bell deserves credit for his durability, but it’s not in the team’s best interest to work him quite that much.

It should be an offseason priority for Tomlin and his staff to find a way to lighten Bell’s load. Installing Samuels as an occasional third down back could be the easiest way to accomplish that goal. He was an absolute weapon in college as an H-back/tight end. He may not be quite as fast as Bell, but he’s equally shifty when he has the opportunity to catch the ball in space.

Next: Big Ben is right about Mason Rudolph

Pittsburgh’s goal should be to get the ball in Samuels’ hands around 100 times this regular season. If they can do that, he can produce significant results for the team and keep Bell fresh for the playoffs. That would be great value from a fifth-round pick.