In his Tuesday press conference, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that it was "an easy decision" to select Le'Veon Bell at No. 48 over Eddie Lacy in the 2013 NFL draft, citing Bell's versatility as one of the influencing factors.
Tomlin gave Lacy his due respect in his response. "Lacy is a top-quality back," he said, "and rightfully so. He was a great back at Alabama and obviously he's over 1,000 yards and proving his worth in Green Bay, but it's probably just a matter of preference."
But when pushed further, and asked if he had final say in the decision, Tomlin's tone became slightly more defensive.
"I'm not getting into that," he said. "We stand collectively behind the decisions we make as an organization."
What Tomlin did not touch upon were reports from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that surfaced after the draft in which a team source revealed that the Steelers "would not touch Lacy" because of toe surgery he had while in college.
Only the Steelers know why Lacy, who was linked to them often pre-draft, fell off their board. Certainly if Pittsburgh was more interested in a power back who could also catch passes out of the backfield, Bell was the right choice. Per Pro Football Focus rankings (subscription required), Bell, the taller of the two who has more receptions and averages more yards per catch, is No. 12 in receiving among all halfbacks (Lacy is No. 18).
Still, Lacy was projected to go in the first or second round and to go first in his position group. At No. 61, he was the fourth running back selected, after the Bengals' Giovani Bernard, Bell and the Broncos' Montee Ball.
He's arguably had the best season of all of them. He's the only one of the four—indeed, the only rookie—to have reached 1,000 rushing yards on the season, playing behind an offensive line that's ranked 22nd in the league in run-blocking by Pro Football Focus, worse than both Denver's and Cincinnati's.
Lacy is also the only rookie in the top 10 in the NFL in average yards per game, with 79.1. Though his vision and blocking were both listed as weaknesses in his draft profile, his ability to find openings has been game-changing for the Packers' ground game and he's in the top five in blocking.
(Bell, on the other hand, is 44th in blocking per Pro Football Focus rankings.)
Lacy's elusiveness, which he has expressed as a strength of his all along, has also proven to be not only superior to Bell's, but to any other back in the league save for Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson.
Not bad company to be in. Lacy has 54 forced missed tackles on the year according to Pro Football Focus, putting him at No. 3 overall in the league in making defenders miss.
Bell is 15th, with 26 missed tackles. Bernard has 20 and Ball has 16.
Lacy's agility has extended plays for the Packers time and time again. In the above screenshots from the Week 6 game against the Ravens, when Lacy finds that the right "A" gap is closing he executes a deft spin move out of a tackle for a big gain.
Even in his pre-draft workout, Lacy told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was the "complete package," demonstrating not cockiness but an understanding of his unique skill set.
"You have guys who are fast and can get around the outside but they can't really get the tough yards," Lacy said. "Then you have the bigger backs who can get those tough yards, but they're not agile enough to make a defender miss. I'm pretty much as complete as it gets."
Lacy hasn't had to say much about his skills lately. His output on the field has said more than enough.
Will Tomlin's comments on Tuesday give Lacy something to prove this weekend? Does he still have a chip on his shoulder from his slide to No. 61 in the draft? One would think his success this season speaks for itself, but he did tell Dunne back in April that his draft-day fall "will be a big motivation piece."
If using his draft day as motivation has helped him achieve the stellar performance he's exhibited so far this season, perhaps channeling Tomlin's comments for Sunday's must-win game wouldn't hurt.