From Reggie Bush with the No. 2 overall pick to Quinton Ganther some 244 selections later, 14 running backs went in the 2006 NFL Draft.
That collection of tailbacks didn’t include the University of Arizona’s Mike Bell. But he outran all but three of those drafted backs in his rookie season, while becoming just the fifth undrafted rookie to gain more than 500 yards in his NFL debut season.
Bell finished with 677 yards splitting time with three-year veteran Tatum Bell, who finished the year as the Broncos’ leading rusher and the team’s sixth different 1,000-yard ballcarrier in the Mike Shanahan era. But in the season’s last 10 games, it was the rookie who led the way, with 10 more carries, 96 more yards, half a yard more per carry nd seven more rushing touchdowns than the elder Bell.
That work initially arose from Tatum Bell’s late-October toe problems. He recovered, and with his increased workload in early December, Mike Bell’s share of the carries dropped, to only 14 in Weeks 13 and 14 (when Tatum Bell broke 100 yards). At Arizona, however, Mike Bell reasserted himself with 61 yards on 16 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
“Sometimes one person has it, sometimes somebody doesn’t,” Mike Bell said after he scored twice in his return to Arizona. “But Tatum’s been successful the whole season, so it was good to get the opportunity to get in there.”
And the opportunity arose again in Weeks 1 and 17, with 69 and 66 rushing yards, respectively. It was a solid end to the season, but considering where his expectations were upon his arrival, it was nothing short of extraordinary.
“A successful rookie season means making the team and just working my way from there.,” Bell said in June. “Right now, I’m just working on making the team and then from there, the sky’s the limit.”
And that sky seems a little more limitless now than it was when he arrived as an unheralded, undrafted newcomer.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Led the Broncos in rushing touchdowns with eight … Three-quarters of his scores came in couplets, with a pair of touchdowns against Indianapolis in Week 8, San Diego in Week 11 and at Arizona in Week 15 … Bell’s three touchdown runs in the final three weeks was tied for sixth in the league behind St. Louis’ Steven Jackson, Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, the New York Giants’ Tiki Barber, Kansas City’s Larry Johnson and Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew … Had double-digit carries in nine of the Broncos’ last 11 games in 2006 (in the other two games, he had four carries against Seattle on Dec. 3 and didn’t play at Oakland on Nov. 12).
NEXT: Tailback Tatum Bell.