While the signing of former third round pick running back Kevin Smith was met with about as much fanfare as a stubbed toe and it sent sales of “I couldn’t give a crap less” through the roof in Metro Detroit, it did bring up an interesting query regarding the Lions backfield in the last couple of decades.
Ever since Barry dumped Lions fans for a beach in Barbados, we’ve struggled to find even a semblance of a replacement. The Smith signing reawakened the ghosts of Lions running backs past and left me questioning, “Who’s the best running back the Lions have had since Barry quit?” If you’re squeamish, close your eyes, because the list of candidates isn’t exactly like looking at Megan Fox and Scarlett Johansson oil wrestling in bikinis.
Let’s seperate the early casualties into a couple of lists–get ready to be wow’d).
The Never Had Its:
Busted Draft Picks:
Washed Up Vets:
Sorry, no Hall of Famers here: Maurice Morris, Rudi Johnson (and his luggage), Tatum Bell (and Rudi’s luggage), TJ Duckett (more MSU pride!), Shawn Bryson, Olandis Gary, Lamont Warren, Mario Bates, Greg Hill.
So that brings us to the final candidates for the best Detroit Lions running back since Barry Sanders retired. We have Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, Kevin Jones and James Stewart. Best has shown a ton of ability, but is too young and has been too injured to consider. Kevin Smith can redeem himself and claim his reward, but without a 1000 yard season and two season ending IR visits in 3 years, he doesn’t have enough body of work.
So between Kevin Jones and James Stewart, I immediately thougth that James Stewart was the easy choice. Two 1000 yard seasons, a 12 TD season, the Lions were relevant in one of his seasons…he has to be number two…right? But closely examining the numbers, it’s not really close. Kevin Jones beat James Stewart in every category except yards per carry (4.0 to 4.1). Jones, the Lions 9th! all time leading rusher, had over 3,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in his injury shortened career. He also scored 27 TDs to Stewart’s. So while he’s forever to be associated with Joey Harrington, Roy Williams and Matt Millen, if not for his injuries, Kevin Jones could have gone down as one of the top backs in Lions history. But, as it is he’ll have to settle for the top back in Lions history since the big guy retired.