For the last three years, most Purdue football conversations revolved around receiver Rondale Moore.
Moore, who broke a school record in his 2018 debut against Northwestern with 313 all-purpose yards, became the standard for Boilermakers receivers under coach Jeff Brohm.
This isn’t another Moore story, even if that’s where it begins.
“Rondale just wanted to be the greatest at what he could be,” Purdue receiver David Bell said at Big Ten Media Days. “He wanted to control his destiny. He put the work in to get where he is now, and he set a great foundation not only for me to follow but for the rest of the receivers to follow.”
Moore, a second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft makes his preseason NFL debut Thursday with the Arizona Cardinals. Bell is the 2022 NFL Draft sleeper receiver worth getting acquainted with next.
The 6-2, 205-pound junior finished with 53 catches for 625 yards and tied for the Big Ten lead with eight TDs in COVID-19 shortened 2020 season. He had 86 catches for 1,035 yards and seven TDs as a freshman. The Big Ten is loaded with flashy receivers. Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Penn State’s Jahan Dotston are first-team SN Preseason All-Americans. Garrett Wilson is another first-round caliber receiver with the Buckeyes, and Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle returned to school.
Bell might not receive the fanfare, but he has the most receptions and yards of any of those receivers the last two seasons:
Two-year receiving totals 2019-20
Now, don’t be surprised if the former two-sports star at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis emerges as one of the most-complete receivers in the FBS in 2021. He needs to become a more-consistent deep threat.
“He makes a lot of big plays,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “He can catch the contested ball. He can go up in traffic and bring the ball down. He can come through in the clutch situation. He’s not scared in the limelight. For him, he wants to take it to another level.”
Bell stepped into a more featured role last season. Moore initially opted out of the 2020 season, then returned and played in three games. Bell scored TDs in five of Purdue’s six games and had four games with 100 yards receiving or more. That consistency that Moore preached in the receiver room spilled over into Bell’s game.
There is a business-like professionalism with Bell, who said he needs to work on running the slant better while continuing to be a vertical threat in Purdue’s offense.
“It’s about continuing to run great routes, catch passes and show not only fans but NFL scouts that I can run any route in the book,” Bell said.
Bell isn’t just watching Moore at the next level. He has studied two under-the-radar NFL receivers who hit the 100-reception mark in 2020.
“I’ve been a huge Allen Robinson fan since Penn State. I know he got hurt early in his career, but he bounced back having consecutive great seasons,” Bell said. “Another one is Keenan Allen. I just like the way he moves his body. He’s tall like me. People think he isn’t the fastest, but he’s always open. I try to figure out what are the things he does to get open so I can get open, too.”
For Brohm, Bell will be a key piece for Purdue, which is 12-19 the last three seasons.
“For us, maybe we need to move him around a little bit and make sure we get him isolated in different areas where a team can’t concentrate on him,” Brohm said. “He’s very open to wanting to do that.”
That makes sense. Bell said he hasn’t thought about the NFL Draft decision that will come at the end of the season, a topic he said is reserved for family cookouts. He is staying in touch with Moore, who said the key is “stay professional” on the field and on social media.
Moore’s consistent approach stuck with Bell more than anything. That should help drive the conversation for the Boilermakers in 2021, and Bell will be the new talking point.
“I have a lot to prove,” Bell said. “Coming off my freshman year had a good year and last year had a good year, too. I’m just trying to show you guys that I can be consistent, too.”
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