Everyone is excited about the Lions this year and for obvious reasons. Their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, looks poised for a big season, and the defense could be a force behind Ndamukong Suh.
But for as much optimism as there is for Stafford and the offense, CBS analyst Steve Beuerlein said the Lions will only go as far as their running game. And that's where Jahvid Best comes in.
He has the potential to help the Lions become a respectable team this year and possibly a playoff contender. And if he plays to his ability then he will be a standout Fantasy option, which is something we expect to happen.
The prediction here is Best will be a Top 15 Fantasy running back in 2011. There is too much talent to overlook even with some potential red flags.
If you go back to last year, Best was the No. 1 Fantasy rookie rusher ahead of LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Mathews and C.J. Spiller. He finished as the No. 23 Fantasy running back overall in standard leagues.
But Best didn't have the best rookie campaign. He struggled with turf toe for most of the season and finished with 171 carries for 555 yards and four touchdowns and 58 catches for 487 yards and two touchdowns.
Taking a further look, Best averaged just 3.2 yards per carry, had zero 100-yard rushing games and went 13 games in a row without a rushing touchdown. I'm going to chalk up the negative performances to the turf toe, which he sustained in Week 3 at Minnesota.
In his first two games, Best had 268 total yards and five touchdowns, and that's the running back I expect to see this year. The Lions have no other choice but to rely on him, and he feels healthy with his toe and following a concussion he sustained in the preseason.
Detroit didn't want to be all in on Best. The Lions drafted rookie Mikel Leshoure to split carries, but Leshoure is out for the season after suffering a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Now, Best will carry a heavy load.
He isn't going to be a dominant runner between the tackles, but he doesn't have to be. His receiving skills will definitely be on display, and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield will help offset any deficiencies on Detroit's offensive line.
Best had 80 targets last season, which was No. 4 among running backs behind LeSean McCoy (90 targets), Arian Foster (84) and Ray Rice (82). Best's targets should rise, and he had six games in 2010 with at least five catches. He should be viewed as a similar talent to McCoy, and Best should be excellent in leagues where receptions count.
My projections for Best are 188 carries for 904 yards and five touchdowns and 52 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns. That comes out to 178 Fantasy points, and last year that would put him as the No. 14 running back in standard leagues.
Look, I can understand why you'd be skeptical of Best in standard Fantasy leagues. There's injury risk following the toe injury last year and the concussion history (he also had one in college at Cal). But an NFL talent scout once told me you should "not let injury confuse you as to who the player is." And Best is a special player.
His Average Draft Position is the No. 20 running back at No. 48 overall in Round 4, and here's a strategy you can use with Best on Draft Day. It's an approach I've used several times.
If you're picking toward the end of Round 1 and have the chance at two of the Top 3 wide receivers in Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson or Roddy White then you should take them with your first two picks. Then when it comes back to you in Round 3 and 4 you need to get two good running backs with upside.
You'll be looking at a group of Shonn Greene, DeAngelo Williams, Knowshon Moreno, Best, Felix Jones or Mark Ingram based on their ADP. I usually target two out of Greene, Best, Jones or Ingram. Then in Round 5, you can look at another running back to cover yourself like Beanie Wells, Mike Tolbert or Tim Hightower and still get a quarterback in Round 6 like Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Freeman or Matthew Stafford.
I'd be happy with a core lineup of Roethlisberger at quarterback, Greene, Best and Hightower at running back, Calvin Johnson, White and Moss at wide receiver and Graham at tight end. And Best is someone I would start in Week 1 at Tampa Bay with confidence.
If he stays healthy, Best will post quality stats this season. And by the end of the year he will be a Top 15 Fantasy running back.