PITTSBURGH -- Le’Veon Bell’s true value to the Steelers can’t be measured in a mere team award. Sure, being voted the Steelers’ most valuable player is a nice honor for Bell, who won by a vote of his teammates for the second time in three years on Wednesday.
But some of his teammates are thinking bigger -- like maybe, MVP of the NFL.
Perhaps a more immediate measure of the star running back’s value to his team will be seen Sunday when the Steelers host the Cleveland Browns and Bell, almost assuredly, won’t even play. The Steelers value Bell so much they don’t want to risk losing him again to injury in Sunday’s meaningless regular-season finale against the gad-awful Browns.
In his place, Fitzgerald Toussaint -- the Maytag repairman of backup running backs behind Bell and veteran DeAngelo Williams -- will likely pad on to his 11 carries this season. Hey, with Bell averaging 26.8 carries per game during the Steelers’ current six-game winning streak, Toussaint will take any work he can.
“Working behind two of the best in the league is kind of an eye opener for me,” Toussaint said of Bell and Williams. “Just sit back and take notes. Those guys really set the standard. I just go out there and follow their lead.”
Despite missing the first three games of the season serving a league suspension, Bell leads all but one other running back in the NFL in two major statistical categories. Dallas’ super rookie Ezekiel Elliott leads Bell in both total rushing yards (1,631 to 1,268) and yards per game (108.7 to 105.7).
Of course, the rushing numbers only tell part of Bell’s story. Bell also has 75 receptions for 616 yards, compared to 32 for 363 for Elliott.
“He’s real versatile,” Toussaint said. “Not a lot of backs in the league can do that. He gives you the whole nine. He gives his all and doesn’t come out of the game. He has tremendous heart. He’s special.”
That’s why, no offense to Elliott or Pittsburgh’s team award, Bell’s teammates believe he should also be in consideration for league MVP.
“He should definitely be in that conversation,” said guard Ramon Foster. “You can’t have a guy who’s done what he’s done so far and not be in the conversation, but in this league they go with who’s hot.”
According to Las Vegas oddsmaker Bovada, Elliott is currently the consensus favorite at 2/1 odds followed by four quarterbacks: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New England’s Tom Brady and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and then Bell at a distant 25/1. Since the NFL merger in 1970, the MVP award has been almost the exclusive property of quarterbacks. Only 14 running backs have ever won, the last being Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson when he became the sixth player to rush for over 2,000 yards. Only one Steeler -- quarterback Terry Bradshaw in 1978 -- has ever won.
Not that awards are weighing heavily on Bell’s mind.
“I think Zeke has had a great season,” Bell said. “Watching him, he’s a young guy, he runs hard. You have to give that guy a lot of credit. He put a lot of his team’s yards on his back, and he’s done great things. I think myself, I think I have done a little bit of the same.
“MVP, the whole award thing, it is what it is. I think running backs can only do so much. Quarterbacks usually win it, which is deserved. I mean, obviously, the quarterback does a lot for a football team and you need a good quarterback for your team to be good. But we’ll see what happens with the MVP thing. I don’t care if I win it or not. I want to win the Super Bowl -- that’s the only thing that matters to me.”
No matter who wins, the fact that two running backs even have a shot at MVP in what’s become a quarterback-driven league is noteworthy in itself, according to Toussaint.
“It’s a shout-out to those guys,” Toussaint said. “They’re working hard and showing guys it can be done at the running back position. Those guys work hard for it, especially Le’Veon. He deserves that. Hopefully he gets that.”