He was the Division II National Player of the Year, but he wasn’t drafted. He had two seasons in which he rushed for over 2,000 yards, but he’s not a household name. He ranks ninth in NCAA history in all-purpose yardage (8,055) and fifth in college football history in scoring (97 TDs), but does he have what it takes to succeed at the NFL level?
Bell’s eye-popping numbers at Wayne State earned him a Senior Bowl invite as well as a trip to the NFL combine, but come late April the three day draft came and went with Bell not a part of it. His phone was ringing shortly after the draft as NFL clubs were calling to see if they could land him as a priority free agent.
The running back wound up choosing to sign with Buffalo, even though two established veterans in
“Being good friends and already knowing C.J. and his competitiveness and my competitiveness I thought we were going to be able to push each other together,” said Bell. “It was a good fit as far as being able to come here my first year and be able to hopefully learn under Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.”
Bell and Spiller had become acquainted at the NFL combine in late February.
“We met at the combine and swapped out numbers,” said Bell. “That’s how we met. Through the combine we found ourselves in the same area and we were in the same workout group.”
The two quickly found that they had the same drive and desire to maximize their potential as NFL players, which is only serving to help both of them now that they’re roommates.
“The most difficult thing is learning this offense in terms of the playbook, but we’re doing a great job with that,” said Bell. “C.J. and I are quizzing each other just about every night or we go over the playbook together. Anything to make us better we’re going to do it. That’s what I like about him. We both want to be successful and make this organization as successful as possible with our contribution to the program. It’s a great feeling to be here. We’re going to make the best of it.”
Bell admits that going from Division II Player of the Year to low man on the totem pole as a rookie has been an adjustment, but he refuses to be discouraged. In fact he’s all the more encouraged knowing the Bills give their undrafted rookies long, legitimate looks to see if they can make a contribution.
“He has the strength and has very good balance on contact,” said Bills scout Brian Fisher. “Where a lot of guys are about to lose their feet, he can take hits even with a narrow base and continue on. He’s a guy that can contribute in the passing game. He catches the ball very well. He’s aware in blitz pickup. He’ll battle you. He’s a guy with the toughness and run skill that we feel can come in and definitely compete for a spot.”
“It’s another reason why I came,” said Bell. “As far as myself and my talent I know I can do something on the field at this level to help out this team, whether it’s special teams or playing running back. I can play slot and catch the ball, kick returner, punt returner, wherever they need me most.”
Although Bell brims with confidence now there was a time when Bell did wonder if playing at a Division II school jeopardized his chances of playing in the NFL. Fortunately for him he was working right under the nose of an NFL team and made sure to get the answers he was looking for from those who had an educated opinion.
Needing a job during his summer college years his brother in law helped him get a job working security for the Detroit Lions. With the Wayne State campus just a few miles from Ford Field it was not only convenient, but gave Bell an opportunity to see if he really had what it took to play at that level.
“Right after my freshman year in college I was working for the Lions and one day a team scout was walking past me while I was working security and I asked him, ‘Do you think a player from Division II can get drafted?’ He looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘If you’ve got talent they’ll find you.’ From that point on I’ve never looked back.”
Bell also had the good fortune of getting to know Lions running backs coach and former Bills fullback Sam Gash, who provided further encouragement.
“When you talk to him one-on-one he’s a cool guy,” said Bell. “We talked a few times prior to the draft. He also coached me in the Senior Bowl. I still have his number and I can call him whenever I want to.”
And when Bell attended the National Player of the Year awards banquet one of the league’s all-time receiving tight ends Shannon Sharpe only reinforced the message as the banquet’s keynote speaker.
“It’s like Shannon Sharpe said, ‘If you can catch the ball, if you can run and if you can comprehend the playbook you can play in the NFL,’” said Bell. “Even before then I knew I had the talent to play in the NFL. There are a lot of factors that go into where you come from and where you play coming up. But if you can play football, you can play football.”