Former Michigan State star Le'Veon Bell No. 10 among ESPN's top running backs for 2020

The Detroit News

It wasn't long ago that former Michigan State star Le'Veon Bell was considered one of the top two or three running backs in the NFL.

In 2017 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bell was second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,946), while leading the league in touches (406). From 2014-17, Bell finished among the top five in rushing three times.

Running back Le'Veon Bell (26) rushed for 789 yards on 245 carries (3.2 average) in his first season with the New York Jets.

But, a bitter contract dispute that kept him on the sideline in 2018 preceded a miserable 2019 season with the New York Jets, where he averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry.

Does Bell still ring true as one of the NFL's top backs? He just squeezed in among ESPN's top 10 running backs for 2020, posted Thursday, winning a vote-off of sorts with Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers.

Bell made the cut at No. 10 on the strength of voting and feedback from a panel of 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players.

"Despite a miserable season in which Bell failed to record a 20-yard rush and averaged 3.2 yards per carry," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler writes, "Bell still had 52 carries of 3-plus yards after first contact, tied for 10th in the NFL.

"One NFC scout said Bell — who's probably lost a half-step in speed — would still be wildly productive in Green Bay's offense, with better quarterback and offensive line play and a good zone running scheme."

Fowler writes Bell could be poised for a bounce-back season, given the Jets' efforts to revamp a troublesome offensive line.

"Though Bell's diminishing speed is something to watch in 2020," Fowler writes, "evaluators say, there's reason for optimism after the Jets replaced a bad offensive line with several new starters, spending nearly $80 million on blocking in free agency and drafting massive tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round."

Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants topped ESPN's rankings, which did not include any Detroit Lions.