Poised to return after tearing his Achilles during training camp last year and consequently missing his entire rookie season, Leshoure has already handicapped his 2012 potential due to a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy. Additionally, he has already come up lame this year in camp with hamstring issues, limiting his ability to vie for a significant role in the Lions' offense out of the gate.
Leshoure's injury is causing him to miss critical practice time during training camp—an issue compounded by the fact that Detroit's star running back Jahvid Best has yet to be cleared by team doctors to return to action. Best's absence appears a perfect opportunity for Leshoure to prove his worth as a second-round draft pick and get a full season's workload to display his skills.
With the door to a significant contributor's role wide open, the second-year back out of Illinois has done anything but take advantage of the opportunity.
Despite being unable to corral his off-the-field issues and get his body fully healthy for full-time action, Leshoure does have two key points working to his advantage.
First, the NFL season is full of unpredictability.
Being sidelined during camp and a looming suspension certainly hinders Leshoure's ability to rise to the top of the running back depth chart at the outset of the 2012 season. However, over the course of 16 grueling regular season games, players' bodies wear down and injuries can happen at any moment. With Best already sidelined, the depth chart in front of Leshoure is limited to Kevin Smith, Stephon Green and Keiland Williams.
The fact that Leshoure was drafted in the second round indicates that the Lions' front office has confidence that he can play at a high level in the NFL, and surpassing the likes of Smith, Green and Williams shouldn't be too difficult upon his return.
Second, if the Lions are to have any success in 2012, QB Matthew Stafford will be forced to rely on the ground game to free up opportunities to air it out to superstar WR Calvin Johnson.
The offense is predicated on getting its star wideout the ball, but in order to do so, it must have a powerful run game to keep defenses from simply overloading their coverages on the Lions' main weapon.
That's where Mikel Leshoure will eventually come in.
NFL Draft Analyst Clint Clearwater of The Football Expert describes Leshoure as a back that "displays great agility and acceleration", while also defining him as a bigger back that "does not shy away from contact". At 6'0" and 227 pounds., Mikel Leshoure is just the kind of combination of power and elusiveness that the Detroit Lions' offense necessitates from the running back position.
He doesn't need to be explosive, or even the focal point of the offense. Leshoure simply needs to pound the ball between the tackles enough to help rest the Lions' defense and keep opponents on their toes. His running style accommodates this strategy effectively.
Mikel Leshoure will have a significant impact on Detroit's 2012 season if he can healthily return to the playing field immediately after his suspension ends.
Who should be Detroit's starting running back for Week 3 in 2012?
After missing his entire rookie season, Leshoure has a lot to prove—an offense that needs his strengths, and a weak depth chart to overcome once he gets healthy. The Lions are in desperate need of a back that can stay on the field and carry a significant load, and Leshoure could quickly become the horse that can help them keep their offense on the field and score touchdowns in 2012.
Whether the coaching staff will be ready to trust him immediately following his suspension remains to be seen. Yet, Leshoure possesses the talent necessary to succeed at the NFL level. The key to just how big an impact he can make this year lies in the hands of the Lions' medical and coaching staff.
If cleared to play by team doctors, Jahvid Best is the consensus starting running back.
However, the timetable for his return is very much in question. As long as Best is out and after Leshoure serves his suspension, expect Mikel to take on the bulk of the carries, score some hard-nosed touchdowns and help the Lions pick up key first downs in short yardage, freeing up his teammates for more explosive aerial play designs.
If Leshoure lives up to the potential that prompted the Lions to pick him in the second round in 2011, the second-year runner could even give Best a fight for his job upon return.