2012 Draft Prep: Smith will power Detroit
The Lions have a few running backs with question marks, but Kevin Smith seems the most likely to succeed in 2012. Our Jamery Eisenberg makes the case for Smith over Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best.
In the span of about a 10-minute phone interview, Lions running back Kevin Smith mentioned the words health or healthy at least a dozen times. Proving his durability is of the utmost importance to him, and it should be important to the Lions and Fantasy owners.
Smith might enter the season as the only healthy running back for the Lions. Mikel Leshoure, who missed his rookie year in 2011 with a ruptured Achilles, is dealing with a hamstring injury, and Jahvid Best is still not cleared for action following last year's concussion woes.
The expectation entering this season was Leshoure would be the No. 1 running back in Detroit, Best would be a change-of-pace option and work on passing downs and Smith would be an insurance policy. But based on health, Smith is now looking like the starter, and the prediction here is he will be the best Fantasy running back for the Lions.
Smith's No. 1 goal for this season: Take care of his body.
"I want to stay healthy for all 16-plus," he said. "When I'm healthy I know I'm able to play at a high level."
He proved his worth last year after Detroit decided not to re-sign him following the 2010 season, which was cut short by shoulder and thumb injuries. When Best went down with a concussion in Week 6 last year, the Lions brought back Smith, and he shined when he was given a heavy workload.
Smith appeared in seven games for the Lions last year and finished with 535 total yards and seven touchdowns. He had three games with double digits in Fantasy points, including 38 points against Carolina in Week 11, and averaged 12.6 Fantasy points a game.
This year, he is ready to be the lead rusher, whether Leshoure and Best are healthy or not. He believes he can be a Top 10 running back, and his stats as a rookie in 2008 -- 1,262 total yards and eight touchdowns -- give some credibility to that premise.
"I'm the next guy up," Smith said in reference to Leshoure and Best being injured. "I just have to take care of business. The rest will take care of itself."
Smith had 277 touches as a rookie, and we'd like to see what he can do with that many touches this season since he would be surrounded by a healthy Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, opening up what should be incredibly large running lanes. Despite being a pass-happy team -- Stafford attempted 663 passes last year and threw for 5,038 yards -- the Lions had a successful running game for Fantasy owners. They just didn't have a complete running back.
If you combine the production for the three main running backs in Detroit in 2011 -- Best, Smith and Maurice Morris -- you'd get 236 carries for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns and 75 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns. That adds up to 198 Fantasy points, which would have ranked No. 6 in a standard Fantasy league behind Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch.
Now, we're not expecting Smith to post those stats by himself, and hopefully Leshoure and Best will get healthy at some point this season (keep in mind Leshoure is also suspended for the first two games). But if they don't, Smith could be in line for an amazing year.
Of course, he has to stay healthy himself, which hasn't always been easy. He said he's older now (25) and has a better understanding of how to take care of his body. He has spent more time in the weight room doing "injury-prevention exercises," and he plans to fight through any nagging injuries during the season.
Smith will likely present tremendous value on Draft Day with his Average Draft Position currently at No. 85 (Round 8). He is being drafted as a No. 3 Fantasy running back, but he could easily be a Top 15 option if Leshoure and Best remain limited during the season.
I asked Smith when he looks back on this year, he will reflect on 2012 with the thought ...
"I did it," he said. "I did everything that I worked so hard for."
It all comes down to health. For Smith. For Leshoure and Best. And for Fantasy owners, who might have to take a healthy risk on an injury-riddled running back in a potentially crowded backfield, but one who could reap huge rewards.
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