Despite Purdue production, David Bell falls to WR-needy Browns in middle of NFL Draft
Editor's note: David Bell was picked by the Browns in the third round (99th overall) of the NFL Draft on April 29. Here is our pre-draft feature on him.
As Jeff Brohm watched the drama unfold from afar, he realized David Bell is clutch whenever he has the ball.
Brohm's son helped him access the Indiana Class 4A boys basketball semistate in March 2018, allowing the Purdue University football coach to view the action on his smartphone.
At the time, Bell was the No. 1-ranked wide receiver recruit in the Hoosier State, according to Rivals.com, but he was also a standout junior guard for the Warren Central High School basketball team.
With a trip to the state championship game on the line, Bell made a shot in the paint with 34 seconds left to tie the score against New Albany. Then with 4.6 seconds remaining, Bell took an inbound pass, maneuvered past Romeo Langford on the right side of the floor and made a game-winning runner from about 10 feet away at the buzzer, lifting Warren Central to a 64-62 victory.
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“He came through in the clutch,” Brohm said in a recent phone interview with the Beacon Journal.
A week later, Warren Central defeated Carmel 54-48 in the state championship, completing a perfect season with a record of 32-0.
Bell went on to help Warren Central capture a Class 6A football state title as a senior and commit to play for Brohm at Purdue. Langford made it to the NBA as a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2019.
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Now Bell is on the verge of being picked in the NFL Draft, which will run Thursday through Saturday.
“He wants to do great things,” Brohm said. “He doesn't lack confidence, but yet he has no arrogance, no cockiness whatsoever. He's just a quiet, confident young man who knows that if anybody gives him an opportunity, he's going to take advantage of it, and I think he's done that at every level he's been at and in every sport he's been in. He's just proven to get that done at all times.”
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The Browns have a substantial need at wide receiver opposite Amari Cooper, who arrived in a March 12 trade with the Dallas Cowboys, and the idea of forming a tandem with him would appeal to Bell. After all, Cooper is one of the players Bell has tried to emulate.
“I really liked to watch Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper and Allen Robinson,” Bell said during an early March interview at the NFL Scouting Combine in his hometown of Indianapolis. “Keenan Allen, his route running. Amari Cooper, his explosives and quickness off the line of scrimmage. And Allen Robinson, his contested catches.”
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There's a chance the Browns could still re-sign Jarvis Landry, whom they cut March 14 in a cost-saving move, but such a reunion wouldn't preclude them from continuing to add to their receiving corps in the draft.
Less-than-ideal speed contributed to Landry falling to the second round (No. 63 overall) when he came out of Louisiana State University in 2014. He had an official time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine but reportedly improved to 4.58 seconds at his pro day.
None of it prevented Landry from becoming a formidable NFL player, as evidenced by his five Pro Bowl appearances.
Bell is in the midst of a pre-draft process with some obvious similarities to the one Landry experienced eight years ago.
Despite being voted a consensus first-team All-American last season as a junior, Bell is projected by many draft analysts to become a third- or fourth-round pick, with a lack of elite speed being the main knock on him.
Bell's official 40 time at the combine in early March was 4.65 seconds. He posted a 4.71 at Purdue's pro day on March 29, when he measured 6 feet, 1 inch and weighed 209 pounds, according to the draft guide written by Dane Brugler, an analyst for The Athletic.
“David Bell didn't run the 40 time that he would have liked — I'm sure it's been well documented, well reported — but he's a good player,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last week during a conference call. “He's got outstanding hands. He wins a ton of 50-50 balls. More smooth than explosive. He's not going to be real, real dynamic from that standpoint, but he's got a huge catch radius. He can really catch the football, and he's tough and physical after the catch.
“I would guess the high-water mark is probably the third round, kind of that sweet spot for him. But I wouldn't be surprised if somebody got a little bit of a bargain there in round four.”
After trading their 2022 first-round pick (No. 13 overall) and five other selections to the Houston Texans on March 18 in a controversial move for quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Browns aren't scheduled to go on the clock until the second round (No. 44 overall) on Friday night. They also have two third-round choices (Nos. 78 and 99 overall) and a fourth-round selection (No. 118 overall).
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If the Browns were to address another key need by taking a defensive lineman in the second round, perhaps Bell could still be had later and ultimately fill Landry-type roles for them. Coincidentally, Bell has trained this offseason at House of Athlete, the state-of-the-art facility in Weston, Florida, frequented by Landry.
Bell, 21, played X receiver at Purdue and lined up mostly on the outside, but he also has some experience in the slot. Landry did it all during his four seasons with Browns, who acquired him in a 2018 trade with the Miami Dolphins.
“We really don't consume ourselves with exactly how fast our guys are,” Brohm said. “We've had track individuals on our football team before, and they weren't great football players. Yeah, you can get a guy that runs 4.2 or a 4.3 and be a great football player, and that's tremendous. But I think it's just rare to get that, so I think with David, he runs plenty fast enough. However fast he is, he runs it every rep that he has.
“He's made plays against great players and great opponents each and every week, so I just think football-wise, he gets it done. Now there may be certain guys you want to run go routes over and over again. Maybe that's not exactly his game. But he just runs really good routes, he understands football, he knows how to catch the ball, he knows how to play football and he's a competitor. So I just think football-wise, he can be an elite player.”
Brohm's perspective is understandable.
Bell started 26 of his 29 games at Purdue and had 232 catches for 2,946 yards and 21 touchdowns. He set a program record with 17 career 100-yard receiving games and averaged an FBS-leading 101.6 receiving yards per game across his three collegiate seasons. He had a career drop rate of just 4.7% (11 total dropped passes).
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In 2021, Bell caught 93 passes for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns in his 11 games — he missed one due to concussion protocol. He was voted first-team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive season and the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year, which is awarded to the conference's top wide receiver.
“He's just a natural, gifted athlete who works extremely hard,” said Brohm, a former backup quarterback in the NFL who had a brief stint with the Browns late during the 2000 season. “He perfects the actual football receiving skills that you need to have in order to make big plays consistently.
“Against Iowa and Michigan State this year, No. 2-ranked team in the country, No. 3-ranked team in the country, he had his biggest games. He just continued to step up to the challenge and get things done, and I just think that he's a no-brainer for some teams.”
Bell had 11 catches for 240 yards in a 24-7 win over No. 2 Iowa on Oct. 16 and 11 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown in a 40-29 victory over No. 3 Michigan State on Nov. 6.
“[I take pride in] being reliable when your number is called,” Bell said, “making those big third-down catches, those big fourth-down catches, when it's definitely prime-time games and being able to compete against the best and putting your best foot forward.”
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At the combine, Bell said the facet of his game in which he has the most confidence is his hands and the area he most wants to improve is yards after the catch.
“David Bell, you look at the speed factor,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said April 14 during a conference call. “The consistency was outstanding. The separation, how will that be in the NFL? Those types of things are going to be dictating what type of pro he is.
“I think he'll probably, to me, right now, be a third-round pick. He's in that tier [of] third, fourth round. The production, the consistency was there [at Purdue]. But will NFL corners kind of be in his hip pocket? Will he be able to get open against NFL-caliber corners is the question.”
NFL general managers typically prioritize traits over production in the draft, but someone will bet on Bell's track record.
“Against Iowa and Michigan State this year, he was just outstanding,” Brohm said. “I mean, anything you called, he was going to get open, and our quarterbacks probably look at him more than they should, but I don't ever fault them one bit because I would be the same way.
“Contested catches and catches in traffic, he will make more consistently than any other player I've been around. He's made a ton of plays for us up the field as well. Whether that's getting open or whether that's being entirely covered, he's still going to make the catch, and our quarterbacks feel comfortable throwing him the ball at all times.”
Brohm added Bell “was always the guy we counted on in clutch situations” because he “shines in the brightest, toughest moments.”
The coach saw it on the basketball court through his phone and many more times on the gridiron from the sideline.
What NFL Draft picks do the Cleveland Browns have?
After the blockbuster trade for Watson, the Browns have the following seven selections in the 2022 draft:
Second round, 44th overall
Third round, 78th overall
Third round, 99th overall
Fourth round,118th overall
Sixth round, 202nd overall from Dallas
Seventh round, 223rd overall from Detroit
Seventh round, 246th overall from Buffalo
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.