RB Index, Week 6: Six landing spots for Le'Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell’s time in New York has expired. His release came Tuesday evening after the Jets were unable to find any trade suitors, Jets GM Joe Douglas announced in a statement. Bell’s tenure with Gang Green ends after months of turmoil between the veteran and head coach Adam Gase — and after just 863 rush yards and four total TDs in 17 games with the franchise that signed him to a four-year, $52.5 million contract in March of 2019. A forgettable stint, to say the least.

So … what’s next?

Bell becomes a free agent at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and I know there are teams champing at the bit to get this talented running back in their backfield. After scanning the league, here are six potential landing spots for the three-time Pro Bowler:

The Bills’ offense has made vast improvements thanks to Stefon Diggs‘ arrival and Josh Allen‘s development. Allen was playing some pretty flawless football before Tuesday night’s setback in Nashville. The third-year passer was off for most of the night, missing targets and at times making poor decisions. When the passing attack goes south, the Bills haven’t been able to lean on the run game. Buffalo ranks toward the bottom of the league in rushing yards (93.8 rush ypg) — and of the team’s four rushing TDs on the season, Allen has three of them (Devin Singletary has one). If the Bills intend to make a deep playoff run, they NEED a strong ground game. Bell could provide the Bills with more balance as a dynamic element out of the backfield. These Bills feel one playmaker away and now they could bring one in at a reasonable price.

Nick Foles has made the 4-1 Chicago Bears into a true playoff contender. I realize they were undefeated with Mitchell Trubisky as the starter, but Foles more looks the part and has the offense trending in the right direction. Right now, the Bears are on pace to become the first team in NFL history with a .750-plus win percentage despite not being in the top 20 in scoring offense or total offense. That will be extremely tough to sustain, so adding Bell could be the answer. With Tarik Cohen out for the season, David Montgomery has been forced to carry the load, but he needs help — and Cordarrelle Patterson ain’t cuttin’ it. The explosive former Jet is the perfect backfield option to pair with Montgomery. With Matt Nagy’s creativity, I think this unit would climb the ranks in no time.

The injury-riddled Colts have already lost a number of offensive playmakers this season, including Marlon Mack, Parris Campbell and rookie Michael Pittman Jr. (who could return soon). Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor is holding is own since becoming the starter — though he has just one 100-yard rushing game — but Philip Rivers is struggling mightily. Through five games, he’s tossed just four TD passes (none of which have been to WR1 T.Y. Hilton) against five interceptions. Oof! Signing Bell won’t solve all the Colts’ problems, but Rivers needs help. Bell is the perfect back to use on screens and bootlegs, and hey, he can line up outside and run routes if needed. He’s a matchup problem, one the Colts should highly consider adding before their offensive issues take them out of playoff contention. 

Remember what we all thought when the Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round? Wow! This offense is going to be utterly unstoppable. And it is … almost (I see you, Raiders). Now just think what Andy Reid could do with the rookie AND Bell as backfield options. With Damien Williams opting out in 2020, Darrel Williams has been a somewhat-reliable spell back, but the Chiefs still lose something when CEH isn’t on the field. With Bell, Kansas City would boast interchangeable, dynamic running backs who demand attention from the defense. With Patrick Mahomes out there slinging it, why not bring in another experienced weapon to supplement the Super Bowl repeat effort? Seems like a no-brainer to me. 

Doesn’t this just feel too perfect? The Steelers reportedly considered making a trade for Bell when the Jets put him on the block last season. After a few years apart, these two parties could rejoin and live happily ever after. Think about it. Bell knows this offense and the Steelers understand how to use him. He’s a patient runner who thrived behind Pittsburgh’s offensive line, averaging 129 scrimmage yards per game from 2013 to ’17 as a member of the Killer Bs (alongside Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown), and the Steelers ranked in the top 10 in total offense in four of those five seasons with Bell. James Conner, who is a free agent after this season, has done well as the RB1 in averaging 4.4 yards per carry since taking over for Bell in 2018 (the season in which Bell held out for a new contract), but Conner doesn’t present the mismatch issues Bell does. Getting Bell back in the mix could be what lifts the Steelers back to the top of the AFC North and potentially beyond.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense is all about creating (and exploiting) matchup problems. Bell was one of the game’s biggest problems for defenses in his prime — and I believe he still has that same ability that kept defensive coordinators up all night. (Playing behind a porous Jets O-line sure didn’t help.) Why wouldn’t Shanahan want to add a piece like this, especially with injuries circulating through the backfield? Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert have missed games already this season, and while Jerick McKinnon has been a do-it-all running back, Bell would take the unit up another level. I can see it now: Bell running out of a wildcat formation, being used in motions and shifts, lining up in the slot or on the perimeter, as well as running between the tackles. Bell could be special in this offense. Plus, the 49ers (2-3) have to get back on track and they have to do it fast.

Top 15 Running Backs

Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 6.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

2020 stats: 5 games | 61 att | 281 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 38 rec | 395 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

Alvin Kamara has been a do-it-all weapon for the Saints and leads the league with 33 receptions (yes, receptions!) since Week 2 — the first game Michael Thomas missed. The Saints should get Thomas back after the bye week barring another locker room debacle, so there’s a good chance Kamara’s numbers could decrease, though his impact won’t.

2020 stats: 4 games | 65 att | 374 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 15 rec | 135 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

Aaron Jones has played awfully well out of the gate, but faces a tall order in Week 6 when the Packers travel to Tampa. Todd Bowles’ defense has allowed just 58.4 rush yards per game this season (fewest in the league) and will make Jones work for every single yard. A big performance in this game could help the free agent-to-be’s case for a long-term extension with Green Bay.

2020 stats: 4 games | 101 att | 376 rush yds | 3.7 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 6 rec | 32 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Too many curls? Boy, I’ll say. I loved watching Derrick Henry do his thing in a battle of undefeateds, scoring two TDs to help the Titans improve to 4-0. Henry’s presence in the backfield really opened up the passing game for Ryan Tannehill, who took advantage with three passing TDs and one more score on the ground. This offense is clicking, especially in the red zone.

2020 stats: 5 games | 92 att | 489 rush yds | 5.3 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 12 rec | 64 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

We saw Dalvin Cook take over a game in the first half against Seattle, when he rushed for 65 yards and a TD on 17 totes, making the groin injury on his first play of the second half so disappointing. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear the injury will keep the league’s rushing yards and TDs leader out for long, exactly what the Vikings need if there’s any hope of turning the season around. 

2020 stats: 5 games | 89 att | 364 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 24 rec | 173 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Ezekiel Elliott has recorded fewer than 100 rush yards in all five games this season. That can no longer be the case with Dak Prescott out for the season. Zeke must be the featured player in this offense despite having a banged-up O-line to help open the pass game for replacement QB Andy Dalton and the triple receiving threat of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb.

2020 stats: 5 games | 61 att | 289 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 21 rec | 140 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

Russell Wilson isn’t the only Seahawk who’s getting better by the week. Chris Carson has improved his yards-per-carry average every week this season: 3.5 ypc in Week 1, followed by 4.2, 4.6, 5.0 and finally 6.5 in Seattle’s comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings. This offense is in sync and doesn’t seem to have a weakness.

2020 stats: 5 games | 70 att | 347 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 11 rec | 63 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

With Nick Chubb on IR, Kareem Hunt logged a season-high 23 touches against the Colts while leading the league’s top-ranked rushing attack. His athleticism makes the offense even tougher to defend. I’ll leave you with this fun fact from NFL Research: Hunt became the first Browns player with at least three rushing and receiving TDs in his team’s first five games of a season since Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell in 1960. 

2020 stats: 5 games | 106 att | 377 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 15 rec | 108 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Josh Jacobs got reacquainted with the end zone with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the Raiders’ 40-32 statement win over the Chiefs. Jacobs was a big-time asset in the red zone late in the game, scoring from 7 and 2 yards out to help secure the victory.

2020 stats: 5 games | 81 att | 344 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 1 rush TD | 17 rec | 169 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

The Raiders held the Chiefs to 80 yards on the ground, with the rookie getting half of them on 10 carries. Clyde Edwards-Helaire‘s 13 touches on Sunday were his fewest all season, and the Chiefs lost their first game of the season. Coincidence? 

2020 stats: 5 games | 101 att | 374 rush yds | 3.7 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 19 rec | 123 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Joe Mixon‘s underwhelming Week 5 production wasn’t due to a lack of carries, as he toted the rock 24 times — but managed just 59 yards (2.5 yards per carry) with his longest rush being just 7 yards. He battled a shin injury leading into Sunday’s contest, but it’s hard to say how much impact it had on his performance. I think it was more so a bad matchup with Cincinnati’s offensive line vs. Baltimore’s defensive front. Either way, it wasn’t pretty. 

2020 stats: 4 games | 55 att | 268 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 11 rec | 82 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Other than his hard 25-yard, up-the-middle run in the second quarter, James Conner was kept at bay by the Eagles. He finished the 38-29 win with just 44 yards, including a 1-yard TD run, on 15 carries for just 2.9 yards per carry. Thankfully, the run game was afforded to take the back seat to rookie receiver Chase Claypool‘s breakout performance. Pittsburgh’s rushing attack needs to find some consistency to help keep it in the AFC North’s driver’s seat. 

2020 stats: 5 games | 73 att | 333 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 3 rush TD | 19 rec | 183 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

The Jags’ offensive rookie duo of James Robinson and Laviska Shenault Jr. has been so fun to watch, and the undrafted running back leads all rookies in scrimmage yards (516) through five weeks. The Jags aim to end a four-game losing streak when the Detroit Lions come to town this weekend, but to do that, they must rely less on Gardner Minshew’s arm and more on Robinson’s legs. He has yet to have 20 carries or more than 21 total touches in a game. Get this kid the ball.

2020 stats: 5 games | 58 att | 260 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 7 rec | 92 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Darrell Henderson continued to be a steady force in the Rams’ backfield with a two-TD performance (one rushing, one receiving) in the 30-10 victory over Washington. It’s great to see his confidence building, with the second-year pro having logged four scrimmage TDs over the last four games.

2020 stats: 5 games | 85 att | 314 rush yds | 3.7 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 6 rec | 22 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

The Cardinals snapped a two-game skid in a dominant offensive performance vs. the New York Jets, with Kenyan Drake leading the team with 60 rushing yards and a TD on 18 carries. He has yet to crack the century mark this season, but has a good chance to do so against a Dallas defense that’s allowing more than 150 rush yards per game.

2020 stats: 5 games | 79 att | 375 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 8 rec | 38 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Despite Atlanta falling to 0-5, Todd Gurley finally had his big breakout as a Falcon with 121 yards and a TD on 14 carries (his most rush yards since Week 13 of 2018). He has become more effective over the last three weeks with four rushing TDs. 

DROPPED OUT: Melvin Gordon, Broncos (previously No. 14).

Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter @MJD.

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