Ravens Rookie Posts Emotional Response to Le’Veon Bell Release

Ravens Le'Veon Bell

Getty Baltimore Ravens running back Le'Veon Bell warms up before an October 2021 game.

Baltimore Ravens rookie Brandon Stephens might be a safety now, but he grew up idolizing running back Le’Veon Bell, who was waived by the Ravens yesterday.

Stephens posted his appreciation for his former teammate yesterday on Twitter, shortly after news of Bell’s release broke.

While Stephens has played only defense in the NFL, he began his football career as a running back, earning first-team all-district honors during his junior year in 2014, the same year that Bell finished with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, earning him his first All-Pro berth. Stephens repeated as an all-district selection as a senior before committing to UCLA, per 247 Sports.

But a lack of playing time and interest in defense led Stephens to transfer schools and positions, landing at SMU as a cornerback where he faced off against current Ravens receiver James Proche in practice.

The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote of the position swap back in September:

Even before his drop on the UCLA depth chart, Stephens’ mind was on the other side of the ball. He stayed after practice and worked out with the Bruins’ defensive backs any chance he got. He felt that cornerback was a better fit for his mentality and skill set. He also thought the position represented a better path to the NFL.

Stephens took to cornerback quickly in college, but the Ravens made it clear after drafting him in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft that they planned to convert the 23-year-old to free safety. He had to learn on the job, playing at least 20 snaps on defense and 12 on special teams in each of the Ravens’ first three games before earning his first start in place of an injured DeShon Elliott in Week 4. He reprised the role in Week 5 and later took over the starting job entirely after Elliott suffered a season-ending injury against the Minnesota Vikings.

Stephens is still developing as a safety, especially in his communication and play-diagnosis skills, but he’s been a reliable tackler for a Baltimore defense that has struggled to bring down ballcarriers this season. In 188 snaps this season, he’s only responsible for four of the team’s 74 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus.

Despite playing on the other side of the ball, Stephens’ admiration for Bell must have made the veteran’s September arrival in Baltimore quite exciting for the rookie.

Analysts, Fans React to Bell’s Release

NFL observers in all forms weighed in on Bell’s release, with analysts noting the veteran’s ineffectiveness in Baltimore and fans thanking him for his efforts.

The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen noted that Bell’s struggles to run the ball came partly due to a lack of fit in Baltimore’s running attack.

Bell’s tendency to hesitate close to the line of scrimmage in search of the optimal running lane is a contrast to the ‘full speed ahead’ style of Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, who all have found success in the Ravens’ run scheme.

As a result, Bell consistently underperformed his expected rushing yards, according to Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun via NextGenStats.

But despite his lack of production, fans still appreciated Bell’s time in Baltimore, despite his history as a member of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

Bell Could Still Return to Baltimore

However, fans may not have seen the last of Bell in Baltimore. USA Today’s Josina Anderson reported upon his release that the Ravens were interested in bringing him back to their practice squad.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed as much in a press conference today, saying that Bell’s release was mostly due to the Ravens’ current roster crunch.

“Le’Veon was doing a great job,” said Harbaugh, “Nothing clear-cut about any decision at all. He can still play.”

Harbaugh expressed interest in re-signing Bell, but acknowledged that the veteran running back might find receive interest from another team.

But whether or not Bell returns, Harbaugh is thankful for his contributions, saying, “Really appreciate him, just everything about him, professionalism, attitude, work ethic. Being around him is a joy.”