After suffering his fourth concussion since his senior year at Cal earlier in the season, Best, 23, has yet to find a doctor that would clear him to return to football, according to a Chris Wesseling article on NFL.com.
Taken in the first round of the 2010 April draft, Best has some memorable moments on the field in Detroit, but his production has been hampered by the multiple concussions he's suffered. Last season Best suffered two concussions and was limited to just 84 rushing attempts over his six starts. This season Best didn't play a single down in both the preseason and regular season, being placed on the season-ending IR on November 3 due to sprouting post-concussion issues.
In his three professional seasons, Best––selected by head coach Jim Schwartz to be the Lions' primary shifty back––has combined for just 945 rushing yards and 6 TDs (774 receiving yards, 3 TDs) over his 15 starts. Not exactly the sort of production you'd like to see from your 30th overall draft pick.
Led by quarterback Matt Stafford and face-of-the-franchise Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, Detroit has a high-powered passing attack and made it back to the postseason for the first time since 1999 last season. But the lack of a viable option coming out of the backfield may have hampered any further damage the offense could have done. I believe if the offense wasn't one-dimensional and had the ability to run the ball on a regular basis, this Detroit squad could have done some major damage.
Instead, Detroit went 10-6, snagging a wild card spot but faltering in the opening round of the postseason last season thanks to a 29th-best rushing attack. Best was Detroit's leading rusher with his 390 yards and 2 TDs, but as a team the Lions managed 100+ yards on the ground in just six different times. Their 32 rushing yards in the wild card loss to New Orleans limited what the Lions could do offensively, and the Saints slipped away with a 45-28 win thanks to a grand total of 167 yards and 3 TDs on the ground.
Heading into this season the Lions had high hopes for adding on to recent success and topping its 10 wins from the season before. But once again Best faced symptoms from his past concussions and the Lions were forced into giving its 2011 second round draft selection Mikel Leshoure a shot at running back. A standout at Eastern Illinois, running for 1,607 yards and 17 TDs as a senior, Leshoure looked promising.
But a training camp injury to his achilles tendon as a rookie in 2011 following a collision with teammate Cliff Avril, Leshoure missed all of his 2011 season. Leshoure was then suspended by the league for the first two games of the 2012 season after two off-season marijuana arrests.
It appeared to be running back-by-committee once again for Detroit in 2012, using veteran Kevin Smith and Joique Bell in the first two games of the season in the absence of Best and Leshoure. With a 1-1 start to the season, Detroit's pass-to-run ratio sat at 80-44. Not too much of a surprise, but it's tough to win that way when your quarterback is throwing three picks a game like Stafford did in the first two games.
Leshoure finally hit the field for his pro debut the following week against Tennessee, and coach Schwartz proved that he wants to give his opponents a heavy dose of the running game. Leshoure carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and his first career touchdown in a 44-41 overtime loss.
That game was one of just two instances all season that Leshoure carried the ball 20+ times, but he still managed to finish the season with 9 rushing TDs. Leshoure is a power back at 6-foot, 227 lbs, but I'm not so positive that he can be the primary No. 1 running back for Detroit for a full 16-games. Short yardage, perhaps even a viable third down back, but a back who can run for 250-300 times a season? No way.
Schwartz took Best in 2010 because he loves his speed and shiftiness. He was a threat in three facets of the game: run, pass, and kick return. Leshoure managed to catch just 34 passes in his 14 games, while Best caught 85 over his 15 starts. Best's speed coming out of the backfield is exactly what Schwartz loved about him, and his ability in the open-field. Leshoure is a great second option as a power guy, but it would be a smart move if Detroit went out and got a No. 1 back this offseason.
The draft this spring isn't looking like the strongest draft class in terms of running backs. Early rankings have guys such as Alabama's Eddie Lacy, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Clemson's Andre Ellington as some of the top available options at the position, but none of the aforementioned would likely be taken off the board in the first round.
The free agency period could get interesting for Detroit, however, with shifty backs Reggie Bush (Dolphins), Shonn Greene (Jets) and Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) all becoming free agents. Going after Mendenhall is risky, and it's tough to tell what Greene's true ability is as he's gotten limited reps in New York. But Bush still shows he can use his speed and ability to catch passes out of the backfield and break free from defenders. He revitalized his career in Miami, but I wouldn't expect him to stay there. If I was Schwartz, I would lobby to make Bush my guy in Detroit. Wouldn't that be interesting?
A consistent running back is all Detroit needs on offense at this moment in time to take it to a new level. So why not sign Bush to a contract and then free up your draft for focusing on improving the offensive line and reeling in a top pass rusher or adding depth to the secondary.
What do you think should be Detroit's main focus this offseason? Because even if by some miracle chance Best does return in 2013, there's still a good chance he could continue struggling with concussions.
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