Max Kellerman just couldn’t help himself.
Kellerman, who’s long been (inaccurately) calling for Tom Brady’s decline, put his Patriots hatred aside earlier this week when he predicted New England will represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV. The ESPN pundit went back to ruffling Patriots fans’ feathers Friday, though, by suggesting on “First Take” that someone other than Brady will be the best player in the AFC East this season.
That’s right, Kellerman believes Jets running back Le’Veon Bell will stand above the rest of the division in 2019, which obviously is what New York is hoping for after signing the three-time Pro Bowl selection to a four-year, $52.5 million contract this offseason.
Bell sat out all of 2018 amid a contract dispute with the Steelers, and Kellerman thinks that actually could help the 27-year-old, who presumably will be reinvigorated after logging plenty of mileage over his first five NFL seasons in Pittsburgh.
“Tom Brady, in spite of his grades on the video games and stuff, was not the same guy last year that he was even the year before,” Kellerman said. “When you look at all the critical analytics in pressure situations — when he’s pressured, yards per throw, all those kinds of things — he clearly wasn’t the same guy. There was a big drop-off last year, and they built a team around him designed to hide that. Because he can still manage a game, obviously, and he can still make the clutch throw when you need him to and he can hit receivers and he can do the things that you need him to do. But those numbers that said, ‘Is it him or Aaron Rodgers, or Carson Wentz, or Patrick Mahomes?’ did not tell that story last year. And he’s a year older this season. And there won’t be (Rob Gronkowski).
“Le’Veon Bell, on the other hand, is still in his prime for a running back. You can split him out wide, you can put him in the slot. He is — and I hate to again sound like the typical football analyst guy — he’s just a football player, this dude. You put him anywhere, he does everything you want a guy to do at that position, and he’s in his prime and is coming off a year where he didn’t play. Contrary to being rusty, in fact that should preserve him, and he’s in an offense where he’s going to be the bulk of the offense, and he signed a big contract in a major market where he’s motivated to prove that he’s worth the money, and the scrutiny is on him where he can be a big star. He’s the best player in the division.”
Before you completely discredit Kellerman’s stance, keep in mind Brady is turning 42 years old and did show some signs of regression last season before turning a corner and guiding the Patriots to playoff wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs en route to a Super Bowl LIII victory over the Los Angeles Rams. There’s only so long a human being — even Brady — can fight off Father Time.
But it’s still hard to imagine Brady not being the top dog for at least one more season, all things considered. Bell should make the Jets better, in theory, but the Patriots still have a stranglehold on the AFC East, and that’s thanks in large to the play of their star quarterback, who just so happens to be the greatest player in NFL history.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images