Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions running backs performed during the 2013 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.
The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.
2013 Season Review
Reggie Bush was the Lions’ sexy free agent signing and while he largely lived up to the hype, it was Joique Bell who graded out as a top-ten running back by Pro Football Focus. Bush largely did his job in providing a home run threat out of the backfield and became the Lions first 1,000 yard rusher since Kevin Jones nearly a decade ago, but Bell out-rated Bush in each of the four areas PFF grades.
How did he do it? The biggest reason was consistency. Whereas Bush’s individual PFF game grades were up and down, Bell was a steady force with seven solidly positive games (overall rating of better than +1.0) compared to just solidly negative game (overall rating worse than -1.0). Bush was five in the green against four in the red. Bell won’t rip off the huge gains, but he proved to be a perfect pairing with Bush.
The Lions’ revamped offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the step forward in the running game, but Bush and Bell did their part as well.
Sometimes the flash and dash can blind a team from seeing what they have in a steady player like Bell but it doesn’t appear that will plague the Lions. Bell is set to become a restricted free agent and at the very least, the Lions will place a high enough tender on Bell to ward off any other interested parties. Bell has indicated a desire to forgo the entire charade and strike a deal on a longer term deal and the Lions would be wise to do so. Something in the neighborhood of three years would make sense for both sides and would keep Bell in Detroit through the duration of Bush’s contract.
With Bush and Bell entrenched as the two-man rotation, with both capable of taking on a bigger load if the other goes down with an injury, the depth behind them needs to be able to contribute in other ways. Montell Owens was brought in last offseason to be a special teams ace. He took a pay cut earlier in the offseason so he seems a good bet to remain with the team. Theo Riddick can also contribute on special teams and gives the Lions a versatile option off the bench.
Unless the new coaching staff’s feels differently about Mikel Leshoure than their predecessors there just isn’t a reason to keep him on the roster. Beyond Riddick and Owens, the Lions may look to add a fullback to the roster, a position they didn’t carry with Scott Linehan running the offense. That possibility only further crowds the offensive backfield and doesn’t bode well for Leshoure.
If someone is willing to part with a draft pick for Leshoure trade him. If not, releasing Leshoure clears about $840,000 in salary cap space. That might not sound like a lot of savings, but it is more than Larry Warford will count against the Lions’ 2014 cap.
As free agency and the draft approach, running back is one of the few areas the Lions can sit back and feel content.