I’ll preface this post by saying that, obviously, I’m very disappointed by the news that rookie running back Mikel Leshoure will miss the entire 2011 season due to a torn Achilles tendon — I was excited to see him play, and thought he’d add a great power dimension to the Detroit backfield. That said, while the reaction to the injury has been borderline apoplectic, I don’t think Leshoure’s absence will hurt the Lions as much as it will hurt his career.
The fact of the matter is that Detroit not only has a promising young starting running back in Jahvid Best, who should be extremely productive now that he isn’t trying to play on a pair of turf toe injuries, but they also boast one of the better backups in the league in Maurice Morris. No, Morris isn’t exactly flashy, and he doesn’t bring the thunder like Leshoure, but he’s a decent runner and a very good receiver out of the backfield. In fact, depending on what numbers you’re looking at, Morris was the best back on the roster last season.
When Detroit drafted Leshoure in the second round this year, it wasn’t to fill a glaring hole on the roster — instead, it was a luxury pick of a potential impact player, much like the Brandon Pettigrew selection two years ago. The biggest issue with the Lions running game hasn’t been a lack of quality backs, but a lack of quality blocking, and Leshoure wasn’t going to change that. The success of Detroit’s season still hinges upon improving along the offensive line while making big strides on defense, and that is still well within the realm of possibility.
Unfortunately, this injury does have a huge impact on Leshoure, who has now suffered a very serious injury before ever seeing the field in an NFL game. It’s possible that he comes back next season and looks like the same powerful runner he was at Illinois, but it’s also possible that it takes him a long time to become fully comfortable running on that ankle again — careers of running backs have been derailed by far less. I’m not saying to give up hope on Leshoure — far from it — but only that this injury, I believe, hurts him more than it does his team.
While I feel terrible for Leshoure, my confidence in the Lions is unwavering, despite years and years of conditioning to the contrary. The defensive line will still be among the best in the league, the linebackers will still be vastly improved, and the defensive backfield should also step up from last year. Jahvid Best is healthy (*knock on wood*), as is Matthew Stafford (*knock on a giant log cabin*), and Calvin Johnson remains Calvin Johnson. Every team suffers injuries, and while the Lions have been bitten early, it’s far too soon to hit the panic button.