Every season, a few great players emerge from FCS programs and go on to have solid NFL careers. Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp and North Carolina A&T RB Tarik Cohen are two recent players who have developed into solid offensive weapons early in their NFL careers. Much like Tarik Cohen, the next great offensive weapon to emerge from the FCS may hail from North Carolina A&T. His name is Elijah Bell.
After two strong seasons at North Carolina A&T, Bell has emerged as a solid receiver prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft. As a freshman, he won the November 7th MEAC Rookie of the Week award and 2016 MEAC Rookie of the Year award while recording 631 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and 18 yards per reception on 35 catches. Even as a freshman (highlights from his freshman year here), Bell flashed the hands and tools necessary to make himself look like a potential pro prospect. He picked up where he left off in 2017 as a sophomore, recording 64 catches for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns. In the process, he continued to develop as a player, as can be seen on film (here).
Elijah Bell is a 6'1, 220 pound receiver with a phenomenal set of hands. He's capable of winning on 50/50 balls, and has made outstanding one-handed catches on tape. He is also a crisp route runner, a trait that will endear him to NFL coaches. Has the athletic ability to make the first tackler or three miss following the catch; while this shows heavily on film against FCS competition, as a sophomore Bell's athletic ability outshined many seniors at the position in the FCS. With two more seasons of development, he should emerge as a valuable commodity at receiver heading into the draft if he continues to refine his game.
As a player, Bell consistently exhibits toughness and physicality; he's more comfortable turning balls upfield to fight for extra yards than he is stepping out of bounds to avoid contact. He fights for every yard, and is willing to take hits to make plays. He is also an extremely good blocker at the position. Many receivers take plays off on run plays. Bell makes big blocks on tape in order to open up holes for his running back. Gives full effort on every play, even plays where he has no chance to touch the ball. This hard-working mindset will help him stick at the NFL level. His ability as a blocker will also help him cement a role on special teams as well as at receiver. In an NFL community where FCS talent is often undervalued by GMs and personnel departments, Bell is a scrappy, tough, physical player who's habit of giving 100 % effort on every single play is exactly what is needed to help him claim a role on an NFL roster. His athletic talent will do the rest, as he should emerge as a talented pass catcher at the next level.
On film, he shows a keen awareness of his own position on the field itself. Bell is able to work the sideline staying just in-bounds until he secures a catch. He can read seams in the defense well, a trait that helps him rack up yards after the catch. Is not afraid to stretch out his body exposing himself to hits in order to compete for a touchdown. Plays bigger than his size, as he is able to go up in the air to make catches on balls thrown above his head. This will be a useful trait in the NFL where windows are smaller; he can create openings with his ability to catch balls thrown above his head. He also maintains possession as he hits the ground, even when his legs are violently hit by defenders while in the air. In an NFL environment that protects quarterbacks and defenseless receivers, Bell has the physicality to thrive.
As a freshman, 473 of his 631 receiving yards came on the road. This is a testament to Bell's ability to succeed in any environment. Thrives under pressure, and makes his quarterback look better. Has been a security blanket for North Carolina A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard. Bell has a record as a hard working, team-first player who will make the players around him better, and this reputation will continue to grow as he heads into the draft. Bell was not highly recruited out of high school; North Carolina A&T was the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship. Bell focused on baseball and basketball in his developmental years, and his first experience playing offense in football was as a high school senior. Prior to his senior year, he played safety. This defensive background gives him the intangible tools necessary to read a defensive player. It also shows that his ceiling is extremely high. After only three seasons as an offensive player, one in high school and two in college, he has emerged as one of the top receiving talents in the FCS.
Bell is constantly working to improve, and gets excited when his teammates make plays. A consummate team-player, Bell gets "excited when the guys around [him] make plays." Is able to identify his own weaknesses as a player and works hard to overcome them; following his sophomore season, he focused hard on his lateral movement and play coming out of breaks. This willingness to be a critic of his own skillset will only help him improve as he continues his collegiate career. With another two seasons of collegiate development, Elijah Bell could easily emerge as the best FCS receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Ultimately, Bell is an already talented player with the tools to stick on an NFL roster. His ability as a receiver is only augmented by his ability as a blocker. However, his ceiling is extremely high, and he should only improve as he gets closer to the NFL draft. While he is not a household name yet, by the time the 2020 NFL Draft arrives, Elijah Bell is a player who will likely be on every team's radar. He's not a complete prospect yet, but he flashes the tools of a legitimate NFL-caliber talent and will only improve with continued coaching and experience. While he is flying under the radar now, somebody is going to get a steal with Bell in 2020. Ultimately he has the skill-set to be an extremely solid #2 or slot receiver in the NFL. To me, he will be one of the best value picks of the 2020 Draft on offense if teams overlook him. If you are a professional scout reading this post, I implore you: watch the tape on Elijah Bell. You won't regret it.--Mike B, Matt and Mike Sports. Mattandmikesportsmike@gmail.com
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