NFL1000 Scouting Notebook: Has Le'Veon Bell Regained Status as NFL's Best RB?

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2016

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 11:   Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at New Era Field on December 11, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 Scouting Notebook, a weekly series where we'll use the power of the 16-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you fresh insights into the league and explain some of the more interesting (and potentially controversial) grades we give players every week.  

The full list of NFL1000 grades will be released Thursday, and we will attempt to preview some of what we are seeing in our film analysis here. 

We will look at Brock Osweiler's continued struggles, dive into what DeSean Jackson can still bring to an NFL offense and scouts answer a few questions on this week's hot topics. But first, let's start out with some film analysis of Le'Veon Bell's massive week.


Has Le'Veon Bell Regained Status as NFL's Best RB?

Written by John Middlekauff

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 11:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers jumps over  Ronald Darby #28 of the Buffalo Bills during the second half at New Era Field on December 11, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Le’Veon Bell officially threw his hat into the MVP conversation Sunday in Buffalo. Bell went off for 38 carries, 236 yards and three touchdowns—he also added four catches for 62 yards in the air, an area he has dominated during his career.

Even on a snowy day in Buffalo, Bell outgained the entire Bills team (298 to 275), which is unheard of in the NFL. After the game Bell told reporters he loved playing in the tough weather conditions. "Snow's never bothered me (or) [fazed] me." It’s pretty obvious after Sunday he wasn’t lying.

Bell’s patience and vision are his greatest attributes. Not sure there have been many running backs in NFL history who have set up blocks better or possessed Bell's instincts to let their teammates locate defenders before getting vertical. A natural feel in space allows him to set up defenders, while his change-of-direction skills enable him to make guys miss and embarrass would-be tacklers. The play below really displays what Bell brings to the table on so many levels:    

I am not sure Bell gets enough credit for being an explosive player. While he hangs his hat on patience, his innate ability to get downhill fast when the hole immediately opens is special. Once he is in the open field, he has the instincts to work away from defenders or stiff-arm them in space.

One defender is not going to bring Bell down in the open field. He doesn’t get enough credit for physically punishing potential tacklers. While he doesn’t have the elite top-end speed, he does play really fast, which is arguably the most important attribute for any NFL skill player. The play below is an example of all of this:

Bell is a fantastic goal-line runner because of his power and strength to explode on contact. He is very comfortable running out of any formation. His feet never stop, even as defenders attempt to wrap him up and bring him down. He has a will to finish runs that can’t be taught; it’s really a special attribute. The run below set the tone for the entire game on Sunday in the first quarter:

Le’Veon Bell is on pace to have a career year catching the football despite missing three games due to suspension. He has elite hands, a natural feel for running routes and the instincts to find openings in coverage. Once the ball is in his hands, he turns back into a running back and becomes a playmaker. The play below encompasses everything Bell brings to the table and why he had such a big day against the Bills:

Bell is in the prime of his career and is absolutely dominating NFL defenses on a weekly basis. He destroyed the Bills for 60 minutes on Sunday. The Steelers have the inside track to win the AFC North and will be a thorn in any contender's side come January. Do not be surprised to see Bell carry them on a deep playoff run or even lead them to Houston representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. He is that special of a player.


What Has Happened to Brock Osweiler?

Written by Cian Fahey

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 04:  Brock Osweiler #17 of the Houston Texans stands on the field before the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 4, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Brock Osweiler's problems can be traced back to last season. Osweiler didn't sign with the Houston Texans and become an incompetent player. He already was an incompetent player, but the Broncos did a better job of hiding him with their offensive scheme and by relying on the NFL's best defense. Bill O'Brien took that incompetence and put it in an offense that does nothing to help him.

Osweiler is being asked to throw the ball downfield and make reads with receivers who at times run option routes. He doesn't get to rely on screen passes, half-field reads or route combinations that alleviate the pressure on him to make difficult reads or difficult throws. The Texans are treating Osweiler like a superstar talent, and the results are proving why they shouldn't.

In 13 games this year, Osweiler has completed 59.7 percent of his passes and is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt. His 14-to-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio is unimpressive yet still flatters him considering his level of play. The Texans won in spite of Osweiler on Sunday. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 147 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

Credit: NFL Game Pass

The most overt flaw of Osweiler's play when he was in Denver was his inability to throw the ball deep. Charting showed Osweiler had an accuracy percentage of 29.6, which was the second-worst mark in the league. Only Josh McCown was worse. On the Texans' very first drive of the game against the Colts, Osweiler should have connected with DeAndre Hopkins for a 60-plus-yard touchdown.

As the above image shows, Osweiler had time to survey the field before planting his feet and delivering the ball after a hard play-fake.

Osweiler is a tall quarterback, but he doesn't have a strong arm. His arm strength is further limited by his mechanics. Osweiler has an elongated, often out-of-control motion with inconsistent footwork as he regularly over-extends his front foot. You can see his wide base and how far back his elbow is in the above image.

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Hopkins has received some criticism this year for his lack of production. Hopkins has 60 receptions for 701 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games so far this season. Even with Brian Hoyer he managed to catch 111 passes for 1,521 and 11 touchdowns in 2015.

On this play, Hopkins badly beats Vontae Davis with a crisp double-move route before outrunning a second defensive back. Hopkins is wide open here. Osweiler has to make a long throw, but it's not necessarily a difficult throw—especially when throwing to a receiver with Hopkins' catch radius and ball skills.

Osweiler's pass is overthrown. Not only does he miss Hopkins, but he completely misses him. Hopkins can't even make a spectacular catch like he regularly did with Hoyer because Osweiler's pass is just that bad.

Leaving touchdowns on the field has been a theme for Osweiler. He's managed to do it in different ways. This miss would be less notable if he were consistently making similar throws or offsetting his limitations by excelling in other areas.

There aren't any areas where Osweiler is excelling. There aren't even any areas where he is average. Osweiler showcased his flaws on a regular basis against the Colts. His most outrageous example came when he threw an interception to linebacker Akeem Ayers.

Credit: NFL Game Pass

On 3rd-and-1, Osweiler turns to execute a play fake to his running back. The play fake comes with a max- protection call so Osweiler only has two receivers running routes downfield. Those receivers are running deep crossing routes, but the coverage on the back side doesn't bite on the play fake.

This means that as soon as Osweiler turns around, he should understand he is going to have to hold the ball and buy time for someone else to leak out or for one of his downfield receivers to extend his route past the initial movement.

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Before Osweiler even begins to throw the ball, you know this is going to be an interception. It's clear Ayers hasn't bought the play fake, but Osweiler's eyes stare down his receiver through the route. That means Osweiler's eyes move from right to left with the receiver, while Ayers comes from the left to cut underneath his intended target.

You only make this throw if you never had an understanding of the coverage in the first place. Osweiler has repeatedly shown through this season that he doesn't understand coverages before the snap, and he doesn't have the poise to break them down after the snap.

While Houston may make the playoffs, it's safe to say the Brock Osweiler investment has been a failure. Osweiler is worse than Brian Hoyer despite costing the team $72 million. That $72 million is the only reason Osweiler is still in the starting lineup at this stage of the season.


Scouting with Schofield: DeSean Jackson

Written by Mark Schofield

While the playoffs are just around the corner, it is never too early to start thinking and planning for offseason moves. Washington faces a number of decisions this year, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is currently playing under the franchise tag and is likely going to seek a long-term deal. The organization also faces a decision at wide receiver. Jamison Crowder looks to be a talented young receiver, but rookie Josh Doctson barely saw the field this year. In addition, Pierre Garcon is up for free agency at the end of the season, and DeSean Jackson is entering a contract year.

The team might look to bring both players back, but Jackson is slated to play under a very team-friendly deal in the fourth and final year of his contract, with no base salary and only a bonus of $1.25 million dollars due to him and counting against the cap. Therefore, he might be an interesting target in the trade market if Washington looks to move on. But should it?

Jackson caught three passes against the Eagles this week for 102 yards and a touchdown, with the score coming on an 80-yard play from Cousins. With the help of NFC WR/TE scout Marcus Mosher, I’ll highlight three of Jackson’s plays from Sunday.

As you’ll see, Jackson remains one of the upper-tier deep threats in the NFL, with his speed and ability to adjust to the football in flight. But you can also see some development to his game and the ability to find space against zone coverage. With his combination of speed and veteran awareness, Jackson is a fit in virtually any offense.


Ask the Scouts

Question: Last month we asked you if you felt Vic Beasley's breakout season was an aberration or a trend that you thought could keep going, and you mentioned his health and newly found nonstop motor has really helped him become a force this season. After a three-sack performance on Sunday against the Rams, Beasley now is tied for the league lead in sacks and leads the NFL in forced fumbles. Is it officially time we start looking at Vic Beasley in the Von Miller, Justin Houston, Khalil Mack tier of NFL pass-rushers?

Answer from Justis Mosqueda, DE Scout: I think so. When you look at his burst off the line of scrimmage, it's up there with Miller, Houston, Mack, Everson Griffen and Robert Quinn...among the NFL's best right now.

At the end of the day, pass rushing is a fairly simple skill to explain. Basically, a bookend's butt is like a camera lens, and the quarterback should never leave the frame. If someone has great get-off, he can break that relationship, making an offensive lineman lean or throw mechanics out the window, in three to five steps.

If you have speed, you can rush the C-gap one-on-one with an offensive tackle if he's balanced. To avoid him cheating, you need an inside counter move, which Beasley has developed this year, including all of his stunt blitzes the Atlanta Falcons scheme.

Last year, I'm not sure he trusted his athleticism. This year, he's completely sold himself out as a speed-rusher first who can change directions on the fly if an offensive tackle bites outside, since he's a better athlete than anyone he lines up against. Athleticism matters more on the edge than any other position in the sport, and Beasley has plenty to give.

When you look at the list of players that have produced to his level two years into the league, it's hard to say he's not going to be an absolute game-changer down the line. His forecast is as a $100 million pass-rusher.


Question: Cre'Von LeBlanc has had a rough season, typically landing between No. 60-75 on the CB ranks with a previous season high of 49th in Week 8. But Week 14 saw a revelation of sorts for the rookie undrafted free agent. According to Pro Football Focus, LeBlanc only allowed three catches for 24 yards on eight targets with an interception and three passes defended (both season highs). What did you see from LeBlanc in Week 14? And do you think he can become a strong starting-caliber corner? 

Answer from Ian Wharton, CB Scout: LeBlanc was thrust into action after injuries ravaged the Bears' cornerback situation, and the early results seemed to justify the Dallas Cowboys' decision to cut him by the end of training camp. Week 14 may have been a turning point for LeBlanc, though. At 5'10", he's not especially long in the arms or stout in his lower body. But he has a physical mindset and moves well due to his light frame. 

In 22 press snaps from my personal charting, he allowed two of five targets to be completed, completely shutting down two of those incompletions. He was great in coverage because he established contact early and then played the ball while not losing the receiver. That's a difficult formula to replicate in the NFL.

His first career interception came via the slot, only furthering the intrigue in his potential. Whether he can develop into a reliable starter at corner depends on his consistency. If he can replicate his Week 14 performance across a majority of the season, then yes, he has that talent and skill set.

The Bears have a gaping hole at cornerback, so LeBlanc will have every opportunity to show he's worthy of carrying a starting job into next season if he finishes strong.


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