After a disappointing 4-12 season the brain trust of the Detroit Lions will be forced to examine their roster and identify areas of opportunity in an effort to bounce back in 2013.
With a significant portion of their roster scheduled for free agency – including many starters – and the limitations imposed by the salary cap, some changes may have more to do with resources than improvements.
The lengthy, work-filled offseason is upon the Lions. To help shed some light on the pending tasks at hand, we will go over a roster break-down, position by position.
Position: Running back
Players under contract for 2013 with Projected Cap Hit
Jahvid Best ($4.93 Million)
Mikel Leshoure ($822, 157)
Scheduled For Free Agency
Kevin Smith (Unrestricted)
Joique Bell (Restricted)
Shaun Chapas (Unrestricted)
The Lions rushed more times, for more yards and more touchdowns in 2012 - primarily with two new backs.
Starter Mikel Leshoure took his first career carry in week three after serving a two-game suspension and sitting out 2011 with an Achilles injury. The 22-year-old running back rushed for 798 yards and nine touchdowns. He didn't always demonstrate the power most would expect from a 6-0, 227 pound back and struggled to break long runs (season long of 16 yards). He also had some ball security issues, losing three fumbles despite never losing one in his collegiate career. Still, he showed good elusiveness and a nose for the end zone.
Leshoure has plenty of room for improvement but he showed enough to justify a future with the team.
Joique Bell spelled Leshoure at times and served a role at the end of games and in passing situations. The Lions thought he offered more as a receiver. Bell finished the season with 414 rushing yards and three scores, adding 52 receptions for 485 yards. The Wayne State product has a decent combination of size, speed, hands and vision but doesn't particularly excel in any one area.
Kevin Smith began 2012 as the team's starter while Leshoure served his two-game suspension but ended the year on the bench. Smith had only 47 touches on the season. The team favors Leshoure and Bell over the 26-year-old Smith, which doesn't bode well for the free agent's future with the club.
Jahvid Best is the enigma of the group. Best is exactly what the Lions are looking for at running back – which is why they traded back into the first round to select him in 2010 – but he hasn't played a down since suffering a concussion in October of 2011. Best may never play again, although no official announcement has been made.
Shaun Chapas was activated from the practice squad late in the season. He lined up as a lead blocker on occasion but didn't have much success – or utilization – in the role.
The Lions will return Leshoure as the starter in 2013 and figure to bring back Bell as well. The two provided a decent combination out of the backfield and both are still in the upswing of their careers.
The Lions have parted ways with Smith in the past – he was not tendered an offer as a restricted free agent after the 2010 season – and may be inclined to travel the same route in 2013.
With Best missing all of the season, there will be some urgency to address the running back position. The Lions will be on the market for a speed back that can make plays both rushing and receiving. The question will be, how much do they want to invest (either through free agency or the draft) on the role?
Regardless of how the Lions address the offensive backfield, one can be sure that moves will be made.