Over the last couple of weeks the Lions have gotten some rave draft reviews. All the experts love what they’ve done in the offseason, both in free agency and the draft, but one player keeps coming up. Jahvid Best. Each comment goes something along the line of, “Jahvid Best is a gamebreaker, but the Li0ns will have to find creative ways to get him the ball because he’s not an every down back.”
There are two contributing factors to the belief that Jahvid Best can’t handle a full workload, his injury history and his size. Best has the unfortunate distinction of having the greatest injury highlight reel in college football. There was the de-cleating hit against Maryland where he was clocked while in a defenseless position. The hit resulted in a 45 second stretch laying on the ground capped with a close up of Best puking Gatorade. The other was the infamous concussion against Oregon St. Best hurdled over a player trying to tackle him low. While he was in mid air, and obviously in the end zone, his legs were taken out from under him and he crashed to the ground. He landed on the back of his head and neck after a five foot fall. Both of these plays have something in common other than millions of hits on YouTube, they won’t happen in the NFL.
Both hits would have been penalized in the NFL, along with substantial fines and a suspension. The NCAA hasn’t cracked down on late hits and usually it’s the team that imposes discipline. The penalties are much stiffer in the NFL, and the frequency of those hits is drastically reduced.
The other contributing factor to the belief that Best is a change of pace back comes from his “size.” Best is referred to as undersized by many, and while he does have a small frame, he checked in at the combine at 5’10″ 199 lbs. The combine is actual height and weight unlike NFL and NCAA listings which are submitted by the teams. Best was weighed and measured in shorts in front of all the scouts, so the height and weight are accurate. CJ Spiller came in at 5’11″ 196 lbs., an inch taller and three lbs. lighter. Yet Spiller isn’t viewed as a situational back or concerns about him holding up to NFL wear and tear. In fact, one analyst opined that the Lions would have to use Best in the same way the Chiefs will use Dexter McCluster. McCluster was 5’9″ 176 lbs. at the combine, 23 lbs. lighter than Best.
Chris Johnson weighed in at 5’11″ 197 lbs., Ray Rice was 5’8″ 199 lbs., Felix Jones was 5’10″ 207 lbs and Maurice Jones-Drew was 5’7″ 206 lbs. All four are starting running backs in the NFL that have experienced success. Warrick Dunn played his whole career at around 180 lbs. and held up just fine and Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders had Hall of Fame careers at 208 lbs.
Best will have the benefit of being in an NFL lifting program for the first time and he should add at least five pounds before the season starts. By this time next year, Best will be in the 210-215 range which is the NFL average weight for the running back position.
People also need to factor in the “Barry Sanders Effect” when evaluating Jahvid Best. Barry rarely took a clean hit from any defender because of his uncanny vision and agility. When Barry got tackled, people were hanging on for dear life and dragging him down rather than lowering their shoulders and unloading on him. Barry’s smaller frame made it much harder to hit him squarely as well. Brandon Jacobs is the biggest back in the NFL at 6’4″ 264 lbs. and he’s been one of the more injury prone players at his position. As a running back the larger you are, the more hits you take which obviously increases the odds of injury.
Best can be a full time running back in the NFL. He will add some bulk to his frame and it shouldn’t affect his speed or quickness, his running style helps him avoid big hits which reduces the amount of punishment he takes and his injury history is exaggerated because of the publicity he got. I do agree with the experts in the regard that the Lions need to find creative ways of using him, not to minimize his risk of injury, but to maximize his talents and contributions to the team.