I would bet that if asked which Detroit Lions running back fits the label of “elusive” best, Reggie Bush’s name would come up more often than Joique Bell’s. After all, Bush is the one who was brought in with the speed and moves to be the home run back capable of taking it the distance by getting the ball in his hands in a variety of ways.
But being “elusive” isn’t just about flash and dash. Simply put, it is about a back’s ability to avoid being tackled. Pro Football Focus, the amazing stats and analytics site, quantifies this trait by what they call their Elusive Rating. PFF describes it like this:
Our Elusive Rating gives a clearer picture on how a running back has performed, letting you know how much he was able to get beyond the help of his offensive line. For some running backs that’s all about making a player miss and cutting past them, but this Signature Stat isn’t just limited to shifty players who like to do that. It also looks at yards after contact, letting you know how many yards a player averages after the defense is able to first get a hand on them.
After PFF crunched the numbers (a combination of missed tackles forced, average yards after contact per attempt and total touches), Joique Bell ranked as the eight-most elusive back in the NFL last season among backs with at least 99 total touches. That’s one spot ahead of Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy and 13 ahead of Reggie Bush.
The strength of Bell’s elusiveness is in his ability to make tacklers miss. Not surprisingly, Marshawn Lynch was the league’s best in that department with just 3.92 touches for each missed tackle. Bell’s 4.56 touches per missed tackle was good for the fifth-best rate last season.
Perhaps the best news for the Lions is that Bell’s performance last year wasn’t a totally out of nowhere phenomenon. In fact, PFF has been singing his praises since last spring when they named him the Lions’ “secret super star”, citing his ability to force missed tackles. Not every player’s effectiveness can keep pace with a rising role. Bell’s certainly did last season so there is plenty reason to expect another very solid season from him in 2014.