will get a chance to be the unquestioned starter in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
Each Friday this offseason, Audibles will pit two players head-to-head in an attempt to figure out which one will have a better 2013 season. We’ll then take it to Twitter, to get your opinions on the debate. Find our previous Toss-Ups here.
Running backs had a rough go of it in the 2013 NFL Draft, with nary a one selected in the opening round. Five players from that position came off the board in Round 2, however, including Le'Veon Bell to Pittsburgh and Eddie Lacy to Green Bay.
Those are the two players under the microscope for this week's Friday Toss-Up.
Le'Veon Bell: Everyone's well aware that Denver rookie Montee Ball was a workhorse at Wisconsin. But it was Bell, his conference rival from Michigan State, who led the nation last season with a whopping 382 carries. Bell also caught 32 passes out of the Spartans' backfield, giving him 414 touches from scrimmage, which he turned into 1,960 yards.
Bell jumped into the very early Heisman race with a grinding 44-carry, 210-yard showing in a win over Boise State. He could not stay in the mix for the prestigious award, but he remained an irreplaceable cog in Michigan State's offense through his junior season.
Questions about his speed and ability to break tackles at the next level threatened to drop Bell in the draft. Instead, the Steelers nabbed him in Round 2 -- and he looks like he might be their starting back in Week 1. Bell will have to beat out Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to do so. The Steelers finished just 26th in rushing last season, so they'll be desperate to find a go-to guy.
Eddie Lacy: What more could Lacy have done in his junior season? The 5-foot-11, 231-pound running back compiled 1,322 yards on the ground and scored a total of 19 total touchdowns while helping lead Alabama to its second consecutive national title.
Lacy got better as the year went on, too. He delivered 177 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri in mid-October, then averaged 150.7 yards over his final three games -- the last two of which were the SEC Championship against Georgia and the BCS title game vs. Notre Dame.
Here's the rub on Lacy: surgery to repair a toe injury caused him to fall all the way to Green Bay's No. 61 pick. There are concerns from some that the injury will flare up again in the near future (as well as worries about Lacy's conditioning, after he huffed and puffed his way through a pre-draft pro day). Like Bell, Lacy will have to win the starting job in camp, with competition coming from fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks.
Bell. The Packers finished just one spot ahead of Pittsburgh in the team rushing rankings last season, and they have not had a running back hit 600 yards in either of the past two years. So, even if the Green Bay ground attack is improved, the job likely will not fall to just one man, meaning that Lacy will have to scratch and claw his way to opportunities.
Bell, on the other hand, will see heavy minutes if he locks down the No. 1 spot. The Steelers would prefer to find a starter and stick with him, as they did when Rashard Mendenhall racked up 324 carries during the 2010 season. (Ryan Grant was the Packers' last workhorse, averaging 297 carries over 2008-09 before an injury felled him). Pittsburgh also doesn't have the depth at RB that Green Bay does. Nor do the Steelers appear to have the same confidence in their current stable -- they reportedly put Dwyer on the trade block earlier this offseason.
Both Bell and Lacy could see plenty of touches in the red zone -- at 6-1, 230, Bell can get between the tackles, just like Lacy. From a fantasy perspective, then, either player could be useful.
In terms of an overall impact, though, Lacy will have a hard time matching Bell, mainly because Bell figures to be on the field a lot more than his Green Bay counterpart.
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