David Bell didn't make many mistakes in his first set of NFL offseason practices.
Bell, a third-round rookie receiver from Purdue, said during minicamp he only dropped a pass in the first day or two of organized team activities. After that, he caught everything thrown his way — nearly a whole month of practices without a drop.
The consistency wasn't a surprise to Chad O'Shea, who's entering his third season as the Browns' wide receivers coach/pass game coordinator. Bell rarely dropped passes across his three seasons with the Boilermakers, which led to an outstanding 4.7 percent career drop rate. His smooth hands led him to two 1,000-yard seasons and top-tier accolades every year, starting with Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019 and ending with two First Team All-Big Ten selections his final two seasons.
Bell could create plays with his feet in addition to catching the ball, which is why the Browns were thrilled to grab him at 99th overall.
"He had the ability to be productive with the ball in his hands," O'Shea said in a “Browns Breakdowns” video. "The job of the receiver is to get open and catch the ball, and we would obviously like to be productive when we have the ball in our hands. He has the ability to make defenders miss in space and the ability to find the end zone. He's an instinctive runner with the ball in his hands, and one of which produced."
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Bell's draft stock took a hit after he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.65 seconds, a slower-than-average mark for a receiver. The Browns felt comfortable drafting him in the third round, however, and believe Bell can make up for his speed with his smooth route-running, diverse route tree and catch ability, which was evident from how he totaled only 11 drops among his 232 career receptions.
The Browns don't need Bell to be a speed threat — they already have at least two of those types of players in Anthony Schwartz and Donovan Peoples-Jones. They simply needed another receiver who could catch and produce big plays, and Bell did plenty of that at Purdue.
O'Shea broke down one of the plays that highlighted that: an impressive deep-ball catch against Notre Dame last season. Bell ran a vertical route and leaped over the defender to make a tricky two-handed catch, one that he still corralled despite not having much separation between him and the defensive back.
"We saw him as one of the best players in the draft as regards to his ball skills," O'Shea said. "He did it in a lot of contested areas, or where he was closely matched at the top of the route.
"That was a difficult catch. He has a defender that's closely trailing him or matching in man coverage, and he has the ability to make those plays and show his great ball skills."
Even though he might not be a player that will consistently burn defenders, Bell can still do plenty of other things with his body to create just enough space to make a catch.
"Speed is one thing, but there's so many things that go into being a great receiver," O'Shea said. "It's body control. It's an ability to understand where you are on the field and have sideline awareness. All those things are critical in the development of a young wide receiver, and he certainly has a lot of those things that we're able to work with."
The Browns gave Bell an ample load of reps from the slot, where his talents could best fit in the offense, during OTAs and minicamp. He'll likely continue to see a lot of work there in training camp, but the Browns plan to give him opportunities on the outside as well as they determine how they can maximize his strengths.
"We don't have any specific place for him right now," O'Shea said. "We're going to keep moving him around to see where his value is best for the Cleveland Browns, and I think that's a good thing for him because the more you can do, you're going to increase your value for the team."
What they do know is that Bell will catch just about everything thrown his way.
That's all they're going to ask of him his rookie season, and if he can keep up the consistent pace at which he did in OTAs and minicamp, the Browns won't have any problem finding him snaps in 2022.
"It's simple — get open and catch the ball, compete in the run game and do something with the ball in your hands after the catch," O'Shea said. "Those are the things we're going to evaluate him on. It's a simple formula for us, and if he's able to do that for us, he's going to have a lot of value for our offense."