Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Running Backs


Photo Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions running backs performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for each Lions running back 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.

2012 Season Review
Mikel Leshoure – An Achilles injury led to a lost rookie season and probably contributed to a pedestrian first season on the field. It is easy to tell from the radar chart above that Leshoure wasn’t anything special in 2012. He comes out looking very average to slightly below average with the individual Pro Football Focus categories showing no big impact areas but no big deficiencies. Leshoure suffered from poor vision (in a football sense) at times and left big chunks of yards on the field. Next year will go a long way towards showing if that was a result of working back from a devastating injury and inexperience, or if that is a troublesome trait that will keep Leshoure from reaching his potential.

If you’re looking for a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season from Leshoure, I’ll give you this: Leshorue earned better grades from PFF later in the season. Through his first seven games he posted an overall rating of (-1.3), including three games that were decidedly negative. In his last seven games he posted an overall rating of (+2.3) with two decidedly positive games and none solidly in the other direction.

Joique Bell – The Lions’ 2012 season had few pleasant surprises but Joique Bell was one. Pro Football Focus rated him the 12th best running back in the league (+9.3 overall), largely on the strength of his pass catching (+7.8, second only to Ray Rice). He was a net positive contributor in each of the PFF categories and helped stabilize a position that was de-stabilized by the team’s reliance on Jahvid Best heading into the year.

Offseason Plan
Mikel Leshoure has two years remaining on the deal he signed after the Lions drafted him in 2011 so he will obviously be back. Joique Bell does not have a contract but he has not accrued enough years of service for restricted or unrestricted free agency so the Lions will tender him a modest contract to retain Bell – as they should. While the Lions will bring back their top two backs from a year ago, the position is hardly set. One of the Lions’ biggest failures was going into last season thinking they would get something out of Jahvid Best. That obviously didn’t happen and it left a gaping hole in the Lions offense.

[RELATED: Why The Detroit Lions Can’t Cut Jahvid Best]

The Lions can’t make the same mistake again and while they may hold out a sliver of hope that Best might one day play again, they have to approach this season like Best’s career is definitively over. That means bringing in a similar back, a dual-threat speed back, to give opposing defenses and extra dimension to defend. Joique Bell was an effective pass catcher but isn’t dynamic enough to take on the Jahvid Best role. In free agency, the best option is Reggie Bush, although the money has to be able to work given the Lions’ salary cap situation. In the draft, Gio Bernard has been mentioned as a possible fit for the Lions starting early in the second round.

Previously: Wide Receivers, Offensive Tackles, Guards, Center, Tight Ends, Quarterback

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.