Spotlight: Jahvid Best

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 21st


Jason Wood's thoughts

I don't pretend to be an NFL draft pundit. I don't get a chance to study film and until someone invents a 72-hour day, the idea that I could see more than a handful of collegiate games per week is laughable. So when I make a proclamation about a collegiate player, understand it's not one born out of a comprehensive knowledge of every possible alternative. With that as a backdrop, I am ALL IN on Jahvid Best. For whatever reason, I did get the chance to see Best play on quite a few occasions, and at nearly every turn my mind would wander into the inevitable day when he would be making dynamic plays for an NFL team.

That day is here, and Detroit Lions fans and Best's fantasy owners, are the beneficiaries. Do I think Best will be the top fantasy rookie RB? Probably not, as I think Ryan Mathew's situation is too advantageous to bet against. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if a) Best's rookie numbers aren't far behind and b) Best delivers a Top 20 fantasy season.

Skills to Pay the Bills
Best is an electric playmaker on a team desperate for one. Best has the kind of lateral agility and quicks that can't be taught. He's got the instinctive ability to break opposing defenders ankles, and will be dominant in open space. He's blazing fast (4.35 40-time), is patient and doesn't shy away from contact (which has gotten him into trouble at times, more on that in a bit).

Big Enough for Detroit City Rock & Roll
At 5'9", 199 pounds, Best isn't the biggest guy which had some wondering if he can take a full-time pounding. Whenever I hear those blanket concerns, I wonder if fantasy owners actually look at the height/weight distribution of the league's top backs.

  • Maurice Jones-Drew (5'8", 205 pounds)
  • Clinton Portis (5'11", 205 pounds)
  • Tiki Barber (5'10, 200 pounds)
  • Jamaal Charles (5'11", 200 pounds)
  • Brian Westbrook (5'8", 200 pounds)
  • Chris Johnson (5'11", 197 pounds)
  • Ray Rice (5'8", 199 pounds)

That's a nice cross section of some of the best fantasy backs over the last five years, and all are roughly the same mass as Jahvid Best. His size isn't a deterrent by itself.

A Tailor Made Situation
The Lions are a young team, yet expectations are growing for this unit after spending the 1st overall pick on Matthew Stafford a year ago and now surrounding him with lots of weapons. It's a truism, but a young quarterback's best friend is a dominant running game. Last year, with no feature back of note, the Lions ran for just 1,616 yards (24th in NFL) and 9 TDs (22nd). This year, Best should step in immediately as the starter, and there's no credible alternative for carries. Kevin Smith is still recovering a torn ACL AND a very painful shoulder injury. I'm not expecting much from Smith this year, nor should you. Best is also a skilled receiver, and you can be sure Stafford is going to dump off plenty of passes to Best (and the other RBs) as he learns to take what the defense gives him.

But What About the Concussion?
Ah yes, the dreaded concussion. Against Oregon State last year, in a dynamic TD run, Jahvid Best landed on his back and suffered a massive concussion (his second of the season). He missed the final four games of the season, and that definitely hurt his draft stock. His size combined with a history of head injuries have somehow gotten people thinking Best is more of an injury risk than anyone else at the position. Yet he's been medically scrutinized (more than most given his concussions I would argue) and been given a clean bill of health. Use that to your advantage. Unless you think concussions can be predicted, anyone that discounts him because of his prior issues is giving you a chance to draft this young star on the cheap.

But What About the Offensive Line?
Our resident offensive line guru Chris Smith (and guest writer Sean Scott) rate the Lions offensive line 24th in the league and a "C" overall. As a run blocking unit, Chris gives the team a C and Sean gives the unit a B-. Not Earth-shattering, but not disastrous either.

Here is what Scott had to say:

You would think this unit would be below average in the NFL but surprisingly there is a lot to be optimistic about. Gosder Cherilus made strides in year two and looks like he will be a good player for years to come. Might not be an all pro but he's solid and fill the RT spot fine for now. Jeff Backus gets a lot of heat and praise at times but he's also a solid if not spectacular LT. His numbers are pretty much the same as Gosder but where he distances himself is screen blocking which Backus continues to do very well. This should bode well for the new toy, Best. Stafford could use a little more time to throw but I believe the improvements to the running game and the arrival of Best is going to take a lot of pressure off the passing game.

Inside the Lions have brought in Rob Sims to play LG. He will be a welcome arrival and is going to upgrade the running game immediately. In almost 900 snaps in Seattle last year he was only called for two penalties and gave up only one sack. He's solid, has good feet, and will improve playing next to Backus. At RG, they will likely roll with Stephen Peterman. Detroit saw many guys playing inside last year but look for those spots to be settled down and the good news is the backups like Manny Ramirez and Dylan Gandy have real playing experience. That can invaluable when things go wrong during the season. Dominic Raiola will start at center and he's solid. With Best and his blazing speed on the carpet, look for some big runs this season.

Positives

  • Best is the most instinctive runner in this draft class, and will be able to make plays even when the line isn't doing him many favors
  • The Lions are going to give Best every opportunity to be the focal point of the running game right out of the gates
  • Detroit is putting the pieces in place for a dynamic offense, which should mean honest defenses and plenty of red zone opportunities

Negatives

  • Best has dealt with a litany of injuries in his collegiate career, and will take plenty of hits given the mediocre status of the Lions o-line
  • Matthew Stafford has talent, but must play markedly better than he did as a rookie or this offense will stall

Final thoughts

Jahvid Best doesn't need to run for 1,500 yards to offer value in fantasy leagues. With the lack of competition, a skill set that bows to no one, and a emerging offensive supporting cast, the table is set for Best to have a rookie season to remember. The RB position is historically one that bears immediate fruit for fantasy owners, and this year will be no exception. Best may not be the top rookie RB (Ryan Mathews probably gets that nod), but he could still put up Top 15 numbers as long as the offensive line isn't a total wreck. Sometimes it's as simple as betting on talent and opportunity, and Best has both in spades.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

EBF said:

I would look towards Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew for examples of how he'll probably be used. Here are their rookie stats:

Reggie Bush 2006 - 155 carries, 565 rushing yards (3.6 YPC), 88 catches, 742 receiving yards (8.4 YPR)
Maurice Jones-Drew 2006 - 166 carries, 941 rushing yards (5.7 YPC), 46 catches, 436 receiving yards (9.5 YPR)

Bush and MJD both averaged about 10 carries per game as rookies. I think Best will probably carry the ball a little bit more than these guys did because there's no Deuce McAllister or Fred Taylor on the Lions. The other Detroit RBs suck, so Best should be forced to pick up some of the slack. I'll say 13 carries per game. I expect his YPC to be a lot higher than Bush's 3.6, but probably lower than MJD's 5.7. I'll split the difference and say:

208 carries, 956 rushing yards (4.7 YPC)

I think he'll be a big factor in the passing game. I don't think he'll get 88 catches like Bush, but I think he'll get more than MJD's 46. I'll say 25% of the gap between MJD and Bush, which would be about 57 catches. I'll estimate his YPR right in the middle at 9.0. All in all, I expect something like:

208 carries, 956 rushing yards (4.7 YPC), 57 catches, 513 receiving yards (9.0) YPR

Reggie scored 8 TDs as a rookie. MJD scored 15. Since the Lions are still a pretty bad team and since Best probably isn't an ideal goal line back, I'll say 10 TDs. I expect him to get a couple more than Reggie because I think he'll break more big plays.

rushing - 208 carries, 956 rushing yards, 7 TDs
receiving - 57 catches, 513 receiving yards, 3 TDs

That equates to 263.9 points in a 16 game season, which would put him right on the cusp of the top 10 RBs in most years.

Ministry of Pain said:

I have Best slated for about 15-17 touches a game. Detroit needs to get production form their RBs, and they are probably going to be in a lot of shootouts. Best has receiving and running skills so I imagine he will be on the field a lot. If he hadn't suffered the concussion and vicious spill on his way into the end zone last year I doubt he would be talked up like a specialty guy that is only gonna touch the ball 10-12 times a game, no way.

WayzUpUSC said:

I'm not going to jump into the 'J.Best can/can't run between the tackles' argument but I will say I think the Lions would be foolish to ask him to go there 15+ times per game given he's coming off as severe a concussion as he had. I mean, it ended his season with 4 or 5 games to go & it was his second in as many weeks when it happened. I would think Detroit, who hasn't been known to have a real good offensive line for as long as I've been alive, would limit Best going up the middle where even if he had a hole, he'd be met by ILB and/or SS's who are far more fierce hitters than he ever saw in the PAC 10.

I think Jahvid can be a solid peek-a-boo back a la DeAngelo Williams but one good hit and all the lofty projections I'm seeing in this thread are shot. As P-Cat states, for the ADP you would need to use to get Best, I think the risk far outweighs reward. The Lions haven't had a 1000 yard rusher since 2004, I don't think Best ends that streak this season myself. If the Lions are smart, they'll use him as a more rush-oriented Percy Harvin and do their best to get him in space & avoid the big hits.

griff321 said:

Just take a look at Best's highlight reel. He can tear up horrible D's like E. Washington and U of MN, but I don't see any highlights from the Cal vs. USC game where he had 14 for 47yds or the Oregon game where he had 16 for 55. I still feel a lot of his numbers were a result of how his line played and I think this is evident when you look at the numbers of Shane Vereen when Best was out.

Then he has to play in the black and blue division on it's worst team. One of the major problems with the Lions running backs is not only do they have to face the top two rushing Defenses twice a year, they also can not keep up with the other teams because their D is so horrible. Then you look at Best's blocking ability and it really makes you wonder just how many plays he will be involved in. For Best to get even some of the conservative numbers people are posting, I think he has to have a perfect storm type of year e.g., Brett does not return, Aaron Rodgers or half of GB's D is injured, the Williams wall is out and E.J. Henderson doesn't return, and then you'd still need all of the Lion's players like CJ and Cherilus to magically "get it" and start playing up to their talent level. Not to mention that while we all love Stafford's toughness and big arm, he still made a ton of bad decisions and he isn't "there" yet. For all we know he's just another Jay Cutler.

Far too much risk involved for his ADP.


Jahvid Best projections

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