3. Briefly trying to project Le’Veon Bell
Even though he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie, Bell looked solid and showed plenty of promise for the future as the team’s workhorse back. A good all-around player who can lead the running game, some have projected 300 carries for Bell, but I’m not sure this would be the wisest approach. After all, the Steelers didn’t beat out the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens for LeGarrette Blount’s signature for no reason, and I am one of those who believes they are eyeing a 1-2 punch that will help them set up an even more effective vertical passing game.
Around 250 carries seems realistic for Bell, because he’s also in store for around 50 receptions after grabbing 45 last year. 300 carries is a bit much, but I would be shocked if the Michigan State product doesn’t snag 300 touches. He’s a near-lock for 1,000 rushing yards and could notch 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Blount won’t make much of a difference in the passing game (that would be Archer’s job as the change-of-pace guy behind the 1-2 punch, as well as a movable, speedy piece), but he’ll make a huge difference on the ground. He’s much more agile than people think, and he ran with a lower pad level that allowed him to finally turn his frame into bone-crunching broken tackles that earned him the nickname “Blount-force trauma” in New England. If he gets 100 carries, then he’s in store for around 450 rushing yards.
4. What can Moore do?
After being a fixture in the New Orleans Saints passing attack, Lance Moore was a mere afterthought last season (he can thank Kenny Stills for some of that) with just 37 receptions. That seems very mediocre at first glance, but it’s important to realize that the rate stats are more important. Moore’s rate stats were pretty darn impressive, as he had a 68.5% catch rate and averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, which matched Marques Colston’s total. When called upon, Moore was still as reliable as ever, and he has the ability to work out of the slot or win on the outside. He can do a variety of different things, and I like the trio of Moore, Bryant, and Wheaton as a supporting cast for the elite Antonio Brown.
Sanders was a fast and versatile player for the Steelers and Cotchery was reliable, but it’s a great trade-off for the Steelers to add playmakers and one reliable wideout with versatility in Moore to give the team a few players who are a bit more focused on niches than Sanders to give Roethlisberger a better, deeper, more well-rounded wide receivers corps. Moore’s targets depend on how much the coaching staff likes Bryant, because more confidence in the rookie means a few less targets for Moore, even if they have two totally different roles in the passing attack.
5. Offensive Line Focus
David DeCastro made good on his draft pedigree last season by proving to be one of the NFL’s best guards, and he was easily the best player on the team at run blocking. Overall, the Steelers struggled to get enough holes going for Bell, so his 3.5 yards per carry average was largely reflective of ineffective blocking outside of the Steelers starting guards. The interior of Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and DeCastro looks very solid after Foster was a big surprise last year, and Kelvin Beachum looked OK late in the season. If Beachum can carry over the progress he made at the end of the season in 2014, then the Steelers left tackle position will no longer be a liability. Marcus Gilbert is an inconsistent, subpar starter at right tackle, but at least he isn’t completely incompetent like bust Mike Adams.
The Steelers offensive line isn’t good, per se, but it isn’t going to be a huge weakness next year, thanks to the interior. They only have one starter who isn’t at least average, but Gilbert isn’t a turnstile at right tackle. It’s an upgraded offensive line that should do a good job of keeping Roethlisberger upright, and Blount and Bell will benefit from the solid run blocking provided by the interior.