Grading the Detroit Lions: Running Backs


This post is part of a series of posts in which I review the Lions position groups based on their play in the 2010 season. I assign a letter grade and give you a chance to have your say with a poll at the end.

The addition of Jahvid Best was supposed to bring a home run threat to the Lions running game that ranked 25th in yards per carry and 24th in yards per game in 2009. It looked like Best was ready to break out in week two after a poor week one showing against a stifling Bears defense. He shredded the Eagles defense for 78 yards on the ground and another 154 receiving for three total touchdowns. His long run of 33 yards was the kind of chunk the Lions offense had been lacking for a number of years. Unfortunately, a double turf toe injury would put the breaks on Best’s rookie season. He only missed one game but didn’t have another run over 20 yards until week 13.

The NFL season isn’t a convenient time to deal with an injury that requires rest to heal. The Lions could be second guessed for not giving Jahvid Best an extended rest but excuses go out the window the player hits the field. His final 3.2 yards per carry average didn’t meet expectations, although the difference between the healthy Jahvid and the hurt Jahvid was striking. Best’s versatility in the passing game should excite fans and we have every reason to expect highlight reel plays from him in the future.
Grade: C-

Kevin Smith got off to a late start thanks to the ACL injury that ended his 2009 season. Smith made his first appearance in week four and was eased into the offense. His greatest contributions came in the week eight win over the Washington Redskins where key runs late in the game helped propel the Lions to victory. A thumb injury ended Smith’s season after just six games played and 133 rushing yards on 34 carries. He had a chance to have a greater impact in the middle portion of the season but didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity. Smith was productive in the passing game when given the opportunity and his 3.9 yards per carry was the team’s best among the regular running backs but the total body of work leaves something to be desired.
Grade: D+

With Kevin Smith starting the year as an gameday inactive, Maurice Morris served as the primary backup running back. If I handed out a grade after those three games Maurice Morris would have earned an F. He got another chance following Smith’s thumb injury and made the most of it with strong games against the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Morris isn’t flashy but at times he was able to provide the tough yards that the Lions needed. The mentality that he brought to the running game served him well, even if it didn’t always lead to huge numbers.
Grade: C+

The Lions finished the season with an identical yards per carry average compared to last season, however it was good for 19th best this season. The future of the Lions running game may hinge more on developing consistency as it does on personnel. They struggled to run the ball in obvious running situations due to individual mistakes along the offensive line and a hesitation to hit the hole and get what is available. That may improve with repetition and the healing of injuries, particularly to Jahvid Best and guard Stephen Peterman. Overall, the running game didn’t take the step forward that many, including myself, thought that it would.
Overall Running Back Grade: C-

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