For NFL MVP, give Le’Veon Bell a chance

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For NFL MVP, give Le’Veon Bell a chance

Le'Veon Bell rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday. Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

Le'Veon Bell rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday. Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

TNS

Le'Veon Bell rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday. Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

TNS

TNS

Le'Veon Bell rushes against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday. Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

By Kyle Morhardt | For The Pitt News

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If there were ever a time for a non-quarterback to break into the MVP club, it’s now.

Since 2007, quarterbacks have dominated the NFL’s MVP award. Compared to the perception of quarterbacks in the modern game as the most important player on any team, running backs get little to no credit for their contributions. A running back hasn’t been seriously considered since Adrian Peterson won in 2012.

But Pittsburgh Steelers star Le’Veon Bell is in an ideal position to end the MVP’s running back drought. It’s not that his name hasn’t been mentioned in the realm of discussion for the award, but a casual spectator would never know Bell is having a career-year.

Bell only played in 12 out of 16 games this season, missing the first three due to suspension and sitting out the regular season finale with the Steelers having already clinched the division title. The running back still managed to climb his way to fifth in the NFL with 1,268 rushing yards.

Most critics of Bell’s candidacy for MVP say that the league shouldn’t glorify someone who got a suspension in the same season — even though he was only suspended for missing a drug test.

But if being suspended means that a player can’t be their team’s most valuable asset, then Tom Brady shouldn’t be in the running either. Brady also missed the first four games of the season because he was suspended for the Deflategate scandal.

Suspensions aside, Bell’s contribution to the Steelers’ playoff journey make him an invaluable asset.

Since his return this season, Bell has the second highest rushing yards per game with 105.7, behind only Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys. Bell also makes up roughly 31.6 percent of the Steelers’ total offense — one of the highest shares in the league.

Those impressive stats underscore Bell’s wide range of talents — the dynamic back is one of the most versatile players in the NFL.

Bell not only finished in the top-five players for his respective position, but finished among the top 70 in the league with 616 receiving yards as well. His 75 catches ranked No. 28 in the NFL and put him on pace for an even 100 over the course of a full season.

It’s not unusual to see Bell line up as a receiver and run a 20-yard route down the field — something hard to find with any other running back.

This level of versatility only adds to Bell’s overall value to his team. Even if he isn’t the direct target of a play, his varied skill set requires opposing defenses to expend extra resources to hold him back — opening up opportunities for his other teammates to make plays.

Bell is currently dominating one of the most important statistics to a player’s value — yards from scrimmage per game. Bell averaged 157 yards per game, nearly 25 yards more than any other back in the league — and the third-highest total in NFL history. This should not only set him apart from the competition, but should also give him an edge when MVP voting commences.

The MVP balloting only applies to the regular season, but Bell’s contributions don’t stop there. In the Steelers’ first playoff game — and the first playoff game of Bell’s career — the Pro Bowl back set a franchise record with 167 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 30-12 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Performances like this in the modern age of a pass-heavy league would typically be a one-off game, but not for Bell. He followed that effort with a new team-record 170 rushing yards in the Steelers’ 18-16 Divisional Round win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

That game marked Bell’s seventh time surpassing 150 yards from scrimmage in 14 games this season.

Bell also wins on any measure of the “clutch factor” that commentators discuss so frequently. He frequently scores in crucial moments of games, such as his pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ 31-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Day.

Helping clinch a division title against your archrival in a winner-take-all showdown is the definition of clutch. Combine that with winning a Wild Card playoff game against a team the Steelers lost to earlier in the season, and Bell deserves his due.

Bell’s ability to climb the ladder of running backs after returning from a three-game suspension is nothing short of remarkable. Of course, Bell is the only one to blame for his offseason troubles, but that shouldn’t hinder his ability to gain proper recognition for a career season.

Although the MVP award has been a quarterbacks-only club in recent years, Bell’s consistent game-winning performances warrant him a spot at the top of the list.

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