With their third selection of the third round, the Cleveland Browns used the 99th pick on wide receiver David Bell out of Purdue. He was the first of two receivers the Browns added in the 2021 along with Michael Woods II out of Oklahoma.
Bell has won countless awards during his collegiate career, but perhaps the most impressive include being named a consensus first team All-American for his junior season, being named Academic All-Big Ten as a sophomore and the Richter–Howard Receiver of the Year in a field that included Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba all playing at Ohio State.
Age: 21 (Born December 14th, 2000)
Height: 6' 7/8"
Weight: 212 lbs
Arm Length: 31 7/8"
40-yard dash: 4.65 (4.71 at Pro Day)
Broad Jump: 118"
Vertical Jump: 33"
Bell has good size relative to his height. He's also got pretty good explosion, which is important as it means he has one winning physical trait. Bell's not fast or particularly quick, but he shows good strength for the position. His age is also good.
2020 (Best Season)
Receiving Yards: 625 (33.7%)
2021 (Last Season)
Receiving Yards: 1,286 (27.8%)
The only season Bell put up elite production was actually the COVID-19 shortened season in 2020. Had Bell not missed a game against Illinois and the bowl game against Tennessee this past season, he almost certainly reaches that level again. Nevertheless, he has put up good production all three seasons at Purdue.
Not only did Purdue play a tough Big Ten schedule including Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa, they also played Notre Dame out of conference. To Bell's credit, he produced against high quality competition throughout his collegiate career.
Bell's effectiveness as a receiver is predicated on two key factors. Power, using his strength to create separation as well as being able to win with positioning or overpowering defenders in contested catches. And precision, consistently having a plan, executing and selling routes in a variety of ways plus good body control, both in his fit footwork and how he frames the ball.
Based on his speed alone, Bell would be an underwhelming prospect, but he's been able to create explosive plays by sowing uncertainty in the minds of the defensive backs and beating them with good positioning. He ranges from using suddenness to stop and start as well as simply executing routes pretty smoothly as opposed to making hard cuts, which can be difficult for the opponent to get a clean read.
The majority of plays Bell makes down the field are as a result of double moves. Slant and go and post corners are his bread and butter. He does run fades pretty effectively because his strength can overwhelm collegiate corners, whether he's going up for a pass after leaning into the opponent or simply boxing them out. His curls and snag routes contain double moves that can end up beating the defensive back twice.
Bell has strong hands and makes the most of his catch radius. He's fearless, which not only allows him to catch passes in crowded areas, but enables him to create yards after the catch. His ability to track and concentrate on the ball in the air is remarkable as he has made any number of highlight catches while being jostled. Bell is fantastic at using his broad build to help frame the ball in tight spots, limiting the ability of defensive backs to make a play on the ball.
Bell's economic footwork enables him to break tackles. Part of that is because he's so strong that defenders who don't put in the effort or form to bring him down ending up falling off harmlessly. That gives him some more leeway when it comes to making the opponent miss. Bell's balance is also good when it comes to absorbing contact.
Fit, Usage and Projection
While Bell can't be entirely ignored as a boundary receiving threat, he's more likely to be find consistent success in the slot. That is where his power and footwork would allow him to do the most damage, overpowering smaller slot defender while being slippery enough to cause problems for bigger ones.
On the perimeter, he could be effective particularly in the red zone. His strength should allow him to create separation while being nifty enough with his footwork to find holes in the defense. His hands, concentration and ability to use his body should also help. Still, between the 20's, if his ability to run routes effectively translates into separation in the NFL, he could be a player who extends drives.
Still, most of the routes where he's enjoyed the most success can be run from the slot. He should be able to run slants, hitches, drags and sail routes. Bell could also be a nice option working to the sideline. replacing an outside receiver's spot on the field. It's also possible Bell could be an interesting target for slot fades and corner routes
His strength and physicality should translate into becoming an effective blocker, something he was rarely asked to do for the Boilermakers. That could also open up some opportunities off of play-action and quick dump offs where he has room to run.
Bell's production is the biggest reason he should find success in the NFL. Whatever his athletic limitations, he found a way to produce consistently. His lack of speed and agility could prevent him from ever making the Pro Bowl, but his explosion provides additional reason to believe he can be a long term starter and productive player for the Browns.