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Spotlight: Jahvid Best

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 15th


Jason Wood's thoughts

I went all in on Jahvid Best last year. To my mind, he was the most compelling rookie RB. I had him ranked ahead of both C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews. Even though I was "right" about the relative outcome, I would be lying if I said it worked out the way I had hoped.

Rank First Last Team Rush RuYds RuTD Recs RecYds RecTD FPTs
23 Jahvid Best DET 172 563 4 58 487 2 141
32 Ryan Mathews SD 157 675 7 22 145 0 124
62 C.J. Spiller BUF 74 283 0 24 157 1 50

Best was a better fantasy RB than either Spiller or Mathews, but none of them delivered Top 20 production, and all three fell well short of their average draft positions. Pyric victory aside, Best struggled all year long with a bad case of turf toe, which completely robbed him of the explosiveness that defined his collegiate stardom in the Pac-10.

  • 3.25 yards per rush
  • 10 games of sub 4.0 yards per rush
  • Only 1 game averaging greater than 5 yards per rush
  • 13 games without a rushing TD (consecutive)
  • Zero 100-yard rushing games
  • Only three games rushing for more than 50 yards

These tidbits serve as an illustration of how ineffective Best was as a runner (we'll get to his receiving skills shortly), but there are two more metrics which are even more alarming:

  • Yards after Initial Contact - Best averaged 1.8 yards after contact per carry; which was 57th among qualified running backs. 57th.
  • Missed Tackles - Best had 8 missed tackles, ranking him a meager 45th among qualified RBs

The question all fantasy owners need to ask themselves is, how much of Best's struggles were related to his turf toe versus limitations brought about by other factors?

Maybe I'm still enamored with what I saw of Best in college, but I'm going to say that a MAJORITY of Best's struggles were related to the turf toe. If I'm right, we're back in business this year because Best has practiced throughout training camp and looked fantastic. He's been making cuts, breaking Lions defenders' ankles at times (figuratively, of course), and shown both the lateral quickness and breakaway speed we expected to see last year.

Other Factors to Consider:

Best is an elite receiver - Best caught 58 passes last year for 487 yards, averaging 8.9 yards after the catch - among the best at his position. He was the outlet for both Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, and could be in for an ever larger role this year now that he's got his quickness back.

Matthew Stafford is healthy - The first preseason game (2 TDs in two possessions) was an indication of the kind of ability Stafford brings to the table. Like Best, Stafford's potential has been hampered by injury; only in Stafford's case the injuries have been more serious. Shoulder problems are worrisome, because we fear recurrence, but by all accounts Stafford is healthy and ready to establish himself as one of the better young passers in the NFL.

Offensive Line - Long-time starting LT Jeff Backus tore his pectoral muscle, and likely needs surgery; although as I write this he plans on trying to gut it out. But an offensive lineman that can't use his chest and upper arms to their fullest isn't going to be an asset. His top backup, Jason Fox, is also hurt. This line was already a substandard run-blocking unit, so the notion of having to cobble together an emergency LT is alarming, to say the least.

Mikel Leshoure's Injury - The Lions selection of Mikel Leshoure (6'0", 227 pounds) in the 2nd round of the April draft sent a warning shot across the bow of Best's supporters (myself included). The move seemed to be more than just insurance and depth. Some, including our own Cecil Lammey, felt Leshoure was the 2nd best NFL rookie RB (behind Mark Ingram), and capable of a work horse role in the right system. Fast forward to early August and Best no longer has to worry about Leshoure stealing touches - because the rookie ruptured his Achilles tendon and is out for the season. But does the signing still serve as an indication that the Lions view Best as a committee back?

Leshoure's "replacements" - Luckily for Best, Leshoure's injury came late enough in free agency that the alternatives were uninspired. The team signed Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell to compete with Maurice Morris. You can bet that if Best loses touches this year, it won't be because of his backup running back having a better skill set.

Positives

  • In spite of a severe case of turf toe, and inferior blocking, Best was able to finish as a Top 24 (RB2) fantasy RB in his rookie season -- and was even higher in PPR leagues
  • Best is healthy and has looked dynamic in camp -- evocative of the player who rolled off 4 TDs in his first two NFL starts
  • Mikel Leshoure's season-ending injury gives Best a reprieve from having to share the workload in a true committee

Negatives

  • Best was among the worst in the NFL in generating yards after initial contact, or making defenders miss
  • The offensive line -- already a question mark -- is facing a severe test as they're dealing with the possibility of using the 3rd string left tackle to start the season

Final thoughts

Sometimes you have to trust your gut. In reading through this Spotlight, you should understand that Best's rookie season gave us precious few glimpses into his true talents. If you're looking for nuggets from the box score that hint at greatness, I don't have many to show you. Even his first two games (4 TDs) weren't all that impressive on a per touch basis. BUT, for some reason, I'm going against my own empiricism with Best and trusting the talent. I genuinely believe the turf toe all but created a "red shirt" rookie year, and that 2011 will be the baseline by which we judge Best going forward. He's way too risky to trust as your #1, and I would prefer to grab him as my RB3 -- which is probably asking too much. When the dust settles, I expect Best to rush for 900-1,000 yards along with 500+ receiving yards, with 6-8 TDs. If he achieves those goals, he'll produce Top 20 numbers, which is a solid floor. His upside is SIGNIFICANTLY higher, but I need to see more from him at the NFL level before I start projecting toward the high end of possible outcomes.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Raiderfan32904 said:

Jahvid Best was one of the rookies from last year whose hype grew on sensational plays in the preseason, and was drafted by many (I will include myself here ) as an RB2. If there was going to be a rookie to take the league by storm, most thought he'd be the one. And with a sensational performance in week #2 against Philadelphia, he gave some owners early rewards on the faith and investment. But then he came down with turf toe, and it basically ruined his season. He lost all of the explosion he had earlier in the season.

...[continued]Best is a very capable receiver, and when healthy, his game translates into a Brian Westbrook type player with a typical stat line of 14 rushes for 60 yards and 5 catches for 50 yards and a TD here and there. That's a stat line that gets it done in PPR leagues. Not so much in non-PPR. I am optimistic about Best, and am leaning more toward boom than bust. A good value play.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Jahvid Best was off to a fast start last season but he slowed down due to having turf toe on both feet. It lingered on most of the season and it effected his play on the field. The Lions have now gone out and drafted a pound it between the tackles rookie RB who looks like he can do the job. So if these bad toes act up again, there will be capable bodies behind Jahvid who can pick up the slack so there is a known risk factor when drafting Best. Still, he appears to be 100 percent healthy and he's an electrifying runner.

Ministry of Pain said:

The offensive line still getting better so I think Best will do fine even without LeShoure being present. Detroit will sign one of the many vets walking around. How about Clinton Portis for 10-12 carries a game? He would cost a vet minimum at this point.

Best will rack up about 1,200 total yds, 48 receptions, and about 5-6TDs. You can slice the yardage up however you like but he will account for about 75+ yds of total offense most weeks. I would like him on any team tha waited to grab their RB1 but wants to get a jump on the RB3/4 spots before other teams. Best looked amazing before injuries hamepred him. He needs to play within himself and he will be fine. Don't lose faith Lion Nation.


Jahvid Best projections

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