<
>
Insider

Time-share or not, Jahvid Best has limits

On Monday, fantasy owners everywhere probably changed their opinion on the draft status of enticing Detroit Lions sophomore running back Jahvid Best. Even I admit I had to reevaluate. Of course, by Tuesday it was again time to change the opinion we had changed in the first place. Let me explain.

When it comes to Best, I think we can all agree there's a wonderfully talented player lurking there, a lightning-quick game-breaker who can be magical in the open field. Best had his moments as a rookie, but not enough of them because turf toe and other ailments caused his performance and availability to fluctuate, seemingly from week to week. Durability was always a concern with the diminutive Best (although the 3.2 yards per rush is another matter for a later date, I suppose). Still, the guy can play.

The Lions hedged their considerable bets -- when teams do things like this, it speaks volumes to fantasy owners -- by drafting the large but still speedy and elusive Mikel Leshoure in the second round out of Illinois to share running back duties with the smaller, faster Best. Naturally, it scared those who had protected Best or were targeting him before fellow owners. It sure looked like a time-share, and that's rarely a good thing in the fantasy/statistical world.

So on Monday morning, we had a time-share between Leshoure and Best.

On Monday afternoon, we learned that Leshoure had ruptured an Achilles' tendon in practice Monday, ending his season.

And less than 24 hours later, the Lions had picked up Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell.

Gee, hope you didn't pick Best in the second or third round on Monday night!

Look, I know Best is talented, and I'll get to Harrison and Bell in a moment, but I think this situation is quickly back to some form -- a lesser one, perhaps -- of a time-share, as annoying as it might be. My colleague Christopher Harris is a big Best fan; in his projection of the Lions' back, he wrote, "This is not hyperbole: Best has Jamaal Charles-style upside." Harris knows his stuff, and someday Best might achieve this level of success. Maybe he does it this season. But as soon as Leshoure went down Monday, the Lions filled the role with a few veterans who mattered as recently as 2009. The Lions are telling you that Best is not going to be the every-down running back, and that they are concerned about his health. That's why Best wasn't in my top 20 running backs when Leshoure was healthy, and why Best still isn't.

Leshoure was probably being a bit "overdrafted" in the ninth round. Now he's being avoided and dropped. But entering Monday, he was being selected ahead of such backs as Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai and even fellow rookie Ryan Williams of the Arizona Cardinals, who also was in line for opportunities. Leshoure was no lock. He's a rookie! And next year he plays the role of Montario Hardesty and Ben Tate, rookies that didn't make it to the field as rookies. It's kind of a shame.

Best is being selected as the No. 21 running back, and that was with the threat of the Leshoure time-share. I think in the past 24 hours, Best's stock went up quite a bit. I'm just not sure it should, even if you don't like the team's new options.

Harrison and Bell are hardly guarantees, either. In fact, it's no lock they even make the Lions, a team that still employs wily veteran Maurice Morris. Both Harrison and Bell are 28. Harrison famously produced some monster performances late in the 2009 season -- he ran for 286 yards and three touchdowns at Kansas City in Week 15 -- but was regarded by the Cleveland Browns as eminently replaceable. He did not impress early in the 2010 season while Peyton Hillis did, and the former was sent to the Philadelphia Eagles, coincidentally enough for this same Mike Bell, now his teammate. How ironic!

Harrison wasn't given much run in Philly, so I don't want to judge him for 40 carries. He did have a 100-yard game, and in Week 17, as the lead running back, he totaled 116 yards from scrimmage. Bell led the New Orleans Saints in carries in 2009 and was a goal-line presence, but he looked completely done last year, averaging 2.1 yards per his 47 rushes. At least Harrison showed something.

I'd still draft Best first among the Lions running backs, probably around No. 25 at the position, but don't go too far. Health is an issue, and I could certainly see a scenario in which either Morris or Harrison get as many or more rushing attempts, and Bell gets the goal-line looks. Best stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 190 pounds. I think he'll make a bigger impact catching the football -- he caught 58 passes as a rookie -- and the Lions will try to steer away from giving him the tough carries on the ground. I'd figure Harrison is the handcuff, but there's not a ton of upside in this offense. Maybe he's a 14th- or 15th-round draft pick in standard formats.