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Temper expectations for Le’Veon Bell’s first few weeks of 2018

That is the date the Pittsburgh Steelers kick off their 2018 regular season against the Cleveland Browns.
He finished the season with a PFF grade of 72.2 which ranked 18th out of 57 running backs with at least 75 rushing attempts.
However, looking closer at his grades, the first three games put a dent in his overall grade for the season.
Over the first three games against the Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, Bell received an overall grade of 56.5 which ranked 50th out of 64 running backs with at least 10 rushing attempts over that span.
However, the time that Bell missed with the team throughout training camp and the preseason does come to the front as a potential cause for his early season struggles.
From Week 4 through the playoffs, he received an overall grade of 74.9 which ranked ninth out of 66 running backs with at least 50 carries.
From Week 4 on, that number dropped to just 7.1 rushing attempts per missed tackle forced.
From then on, Bell saw the most targets of any running back (95), most receptions of any running back (81) and had the second-most receiving yards of any running back (687).
Over that stretch, he put together a receiving grade of 80.0 which ranked 10th among 51 running backs with at least 25 targets over that span.
With his holdout this year mirroring the situation we saw a year ago, it could mean another sluggish start for Bell out of the gates in 2018.

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Sep 10, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) is tackled by Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Joe Schobert (53) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

September 9.

That is the date the Pittsburgh Steelers kick off their 2018 regular season against the Cleveland Browns. It appears that is also likely the date that Le’Veon Bell will suit up in a Steelers uniform for the first time this season.

Bell did not report to training camp after failing to get a long-term contract worked out in place of the franchise tag that the Steelers placed on him this offseason. There doesn’t look to be any intention of the top RB in the NFL returning to the team before the preseason is over either.

What’s interesting about this year’s holdout for Bell is that this situation has happened before, just last year. In 2017, Bell did not report to the team until the preseason had concluded, like many expect him to do again this season. This means that we have an almost exact sample to look back on to see what potential effect Bell’s holdout will have on his performance heading into the regular season this year.

[Editor’s note: Find all the information from this article, broken down in-depth at your fingertips with a PFF Elite subscription inside of our Premium Stats 2.0.]

The numbers indicate that the holdout did have an effect on him on a season ago.

By his standards, Bell had a down year in 2017. He finished the season with a PFF grade of 72.2 which ranked 18th out of 57 running backs with at least 75 rushing attempts. Here are his overall grades and positional ranks from 2014 to 2016:

2014: 86.0 (6th)
2015: 89.9 (1st)
2016: 78.6 (4th)

Looking at those grades, it’s easy to say that Bell had a down year and dismiss it as that. After finishing among the top six running backs in overall grade each of the three prior seasons, he finished 18th in 2017. However, looking closer at his grades, the first three games put a dent in his overall grade for the season.

Over the first three games against the Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, Bell received an overall grade of 56.5 which ranked 50th out of 64 running backs…

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