Kevin Smith will be the Detroit Lions starting running back come week one. It seems wild to be saying that so early into training camp but a lot has happened already only in a few days. Jahvid Best has yet to be cleared to play and was placed on the PUP list and Mikel Leshoure has already suffered a mild hamstring injury. The unhealthy backfield of the Lions is filled with uncertainty and the starter will be who is ready to go Week 1.
Jahvid Best has yet been able to see the practice field and Mikel Leshoure is suspended the first two weeks so Smith is the natural choice. Last season, Smith was signed as a free agent mid-season and played his first game in Week 10 against the Bears. Though banged up a bit, he was quite productive in his six games as a starter. Smith racked up 535 all-purpose yards and 7 touchdowns. In a six week stretch, he was no fantasy slouch. Smith became a must start after his Week 11 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. He went off for 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns, also adding 61 receiving yards and another score. These numbers were too good to be ignored. This season Smith has the ability to be successful. Like the rest of the Lions backfield, he has been plagued with injuries. This warrants a late round pick. In standard leagues Smith will most likely be taken after fellow backs Best and Leshoure but it doesn’t mean that he couldn’t be the featured back for most of the year. Most leagues will see him go rounds 8 to 12 depending on running back depth in these rounds. Smith will be a great start Week 1 with a matchup against a weak St. Louis defense even if it’s as a flex play. There is no doubt Kevin Smith is one to take a risk on late in your draft.
Now onto the back we know absolutely nothing about; Mikel Leshoure. The only thing we know about Leshoure as a Lion is that he’s been arrested almost as many times as he’s been on the practice field. Last season he was sidelined by a season ending Achilles injury suffered early in training camp. This year he has already been slowed with a minor tweak of a hamstring and is sitting out of practice. Nonetheless, Leshoure has the potential to be a touchdown vulture in 2012. His skill set is a physical style that punishes defenses. It is thought that by mid-season Leshoure could be the number one back on the Lions roster. Even if not the feature back, he will be seeing a lot of red zone carries. The Lions lacked a short yardage back in 2011 and Leshoure is thought to be the guy. Though Leshoure is suspended the first two games, it really shouldn’t affect his draft status. Leshoure will most likely be taken in the mid to late rounds. I project him being taken as high as the fifth round and as far back as the 10th. His PPR value isn’t very high but in most standard leagues he could be an effective starter or flex play.
Remember, all this being said, every one of the three Lions running backs have injury issues and are not very reliable. The projections are based on a full season and as Lions fans know, the “curse” of Barry Sanders has been hard on the running back position. This season should be very interesting in the backfield and should be monitored closely by fantasy owners. All three of these guys have great upside if healthy, but in the end only one will be a stand out.
2011 Stats: 72 Carries, 356 yards, 4 touchdowns, 22 receptions, 179 yards, 3 touchdowns
2012 Projections: 76 carries, 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, 18 receptions, 158 yards, 2 touchdowns
2012 Projections: 129 carries, 574 yards, 6 touchdowns