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Making Sense of the Lions' Backfield


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It’s messy, there’s no way around that, and for different reasons for each player. However, there is loads of profit potential in the Detroit Lions’ backfield. The Lions were in the Bottom 5 in rushing in 2011. However, they were tied for 12th in yards per carry because they attempted so few runs. Furthermore, 138 of those carries (more than one-third) were to NFL journeymen Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams, who averaged a collective 3.8 yards per carry. Their starters, Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, averaged a gaudy 4.7 yards per carry and contributed 49 receptions.

To put this into perspective, over a full season of 4.7 yards per carry (assume 250 carries) and 50 receptions (conservative), you’re looking at 1,175 rushing yards and about 500 receiving yards on an offense that will offer many touchdown opportunities. In other words, see Ryan Mathews’ statline from 2011, but add more touchdowns.

Who to start? Well, let’s start off easy. It’s not Jahvid Best. The offseason reports on his concussions were not good as they conveyed a cliff hanger. Training camp has pushed him over the cliff. He’s not cleared to resume football activities and is considered week-to-week, almost a full year after his season was ended. It isn’t unreasonable to project that his football career is over, yet he’s still being drafted, albeit at a much lower price. That said, it’s safe to say you cannot count on him this year. If he does play, he will be handled with kid gloves. While the rest of the picture is still a little fuzzy, there is more clarity with Best out of it.

Mikel Leshoure is out for the first two games, so the starting job is Kevin Smith’s, but he’s not being drafted like it because no one trusts him to keep the job. That’s irrelevant. Why? Because you can draft both him and Leshoure after the rest of your starting lineup is set. Additionally, there should be clarity week to week on who to start. Coach Jim Schwartz, while mum about health during the week, has not been like Mike Shanahan by steering you in the wrong direction about who will get the lion’s share in a given week. On Sunday, you know who the lead guy will be.

Smith stepped back into the lineup late last year when injury beset the rest of the lineup and showed what he’s capable of strong performances mixed in with a healthy dose of injuries. He has two weeks to himself to show the same flash and prove that he can stay on the field. But you’re not starting him those weeks anyway, because you’re drafting this tandem as your No. 3 running back.

There are two paths Smith can take that will dictate his playing time once Leshoure returns if he plays well, stays on the field and maintains the lead job. Leshoure gets a role, but ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ applies, so Smith will maintain the lead job. The other path is ineffectiveness and/or inability to stay on the field. In this scenario the field is wide open for Leshoure to take the job and run with it. He has the natural talent to thrive, and, as long as he can stay on the field, he is an asset to your team.

I don’t know which of these two is going to be left when the dust settles in December, but I am confident you’ll get Top 10 numbers from the tandem and you will know who to start each week. Catch others sleeping on this dynamic duo.