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Browns' WR David Bell Could Be NFL's Middle-Round Rookie Breakout Star

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 20, 2022

Cleveland Browns receiver David Bell participates in a drill during the NFL football team's rookie minicamp, Friday, May 13, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
David Dermer/Associated Press

Collegiate standout with exceptional hands and fantastic production against top competition in an elite conference falls to Day 2 of the NFL draft because he lacks explosive speed. 

Sound familiar? It should. 

The same narrative that drove Jarvis Landry into the second round of the 2014 draft applies to his replacement on the Cleveland Browns roster. David Bell eventually heard his name called with the 99th overall pick in this year's edition. 

Despite the draft weekend tumble, Bell is poised to make a significant impact for the Browns early in his career, and the team is eager to see what he can do in Kevin Stefanski's offense. 

"You were the first guy I watched, and right away, I was like, 'We need to get this guy,'" the Browns head coach/offensive play-caller told Bell in a meeting shown on Building The Browns, the team's ongoing web series (h/t Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal). "You can ask our GM [Andrew Berry]. I was like, 'This day needs to end with David Bell on our team.' Just your ability to catch the ball, which I think is the best in the draft, your ability to get open and just who you are as a person, that fits who we are."

Surprisingly, the Browns waited and even passed on Bell twice before selecting the two-time first-team All-Big Ten Conference performer. Berry showed exemplary patience and understanding of the incoming class to land one of college football's top targets. 

Despite falling to Round 3 as opposed to Round 2, Bell's and Landry's profiles are similar.

The hang-up always revolved around their athleticism or lack thereof. Landry famously ran a substandard 4.77-second 40-yard dash. To understand how bad that is for a successful NFL wide receiver, the number is still used as a measuring stick for outliers. For example, Georgia's 341-pound nose tackle, Jordan Davis, ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash at this year's NFL combine. The effort automatically invoked comparisons to the 205-pound Landry. 

Nick Cammett/Associated Press

According to Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte, Landry posted five of the 10 worst metrics ever for a Pro Bowl wide receiver and a 0.27 (on a scale of 10) relative athletic score. 

By comparison, Bell is a better overall athlete. But he's still not in the same stratosphere as other targets. Bell ran a disappointing 4.65-second 40-yard dash. The time tied for the second slowest of any wide receiver at this year's combine. His relative athletic score didn't even crack the top half of the 2,785 wide receivers registered over the last 36 years. 

Yet here the Browns are excited about Bell and what he brings to their offense. Amazingly, they should be.

The comparison to Landry extends beyond their relatively similar builds and athletic profiles. Obviously, Landry previously played for the Browns (after being drafted by the Miami Dolphins), and the organization views the two in the same light. 

Landry primarily built his success as a slot receiver known for his toughness, savvy route-running, strong hands and willingness to contribute to multiple areas of the offense. The same will be asked of Bell. 

"[Bell is] a very competitive player," Stefanski told reporters during rookie minicamp. "Catches the ball really well. We thought he had some savviness.

"When you're looking at the draft, there are so many guys who can fit, and you better have a lot of guys who can fit in your scheme. It's really what traits do you feel like you can exploit, so to speak. We thought he was really competitive at the catch and has some versatility to play outside and inside."

It's an important role, as Landry led the Browns in targets in each of the last four seasons. And Bell certainly doesn't shy away from big moments. 

The unanimous All-American thrived when his team needed him most. This past season, Bell and the Purdue Boilermakers played against a trio of Top Five-ranked opponents. During those contests, the wide receiver caught 33 passes for 560 yards.

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The rookie shouldn't be unnecessarily pigeonholed into a slot receiver, either. Yes, he should primarily fill the role and do the dirty work for the offense. Nonetheless, Bell ranked third among this year's class in yards per route run as an outside receiver, per Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle. His 18 receptions of 15-plus yards against single coverage over the last two seasons ranked sixth, per PFF (h/t Smart Football's Adam Carter). 

Cleveland loves to employ multiple tight end sets. In fact, the Browns had two or more tight ends on the field for 44 percent of last season's snaps.

"Overall, Bell projects as a No. 2 type of receiver who can align inside as a 'Power Slot' and outside as a Z receiver," Bleacher Report scout Nate Tice wrote. "His strength, body control and ball skills will get him playing time early in his career, but he needs to continue working on his technique and overall effort to ascend to more."

Bell's potential emergence isn't just a projection based on how the team views the incoming prospect. Contributions from the rookie will be necessary for the Browns offense to reach its full potential. 

Right now, Amari Cooper is the only proven wide receiver on the team's roster. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz are other recent draft picks with plenty of upside, yet they're a long way away from being considered a threat. Improved play under center should help all parties, including Bell. 

A year ago at this time, the Browns franchise was riding high after a big playoff win with dreams of competing for a Super Bowl. Everything fell apart soon thereafter. The organization's supposed franchise quarterback suffered multiple injuries and never lived up to the expectations of a No. 1 overall pick. A falling-out occurred with superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whom the team released in November. Landry's play no longer matched his level of pay, and the Browns cut him earlier this offseason. 

The Browns already replaced Baker Mayfield with the Deshaun Watson trade (though the former remains on the roster). Cooper takes over for Beckham as the team's Pro Bowl-caliber target. Meanwhile, Bell should fill in nicely as a cheaper, younger and slightly more athletic version of Landry. 

"God put me in this perfect situation. Come to the Browns. Be in a phenomenal offense," the first-year wide receiver said. "Got a great run game, a great passing game and arguably the best quarterback in the league right now. So I'm just really looking forward for the opportunity to get out there, and hopefully I have that chance to start at Week 1."

          

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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