What Detroit Lions Fans Can Expect from Mikel Leshoure This Season
The Detroit Lions have been in search of a feature tailback since the departure of a guy named Barry Sanders.
Players like James Stewart, Kevin Jones, T.J. Duckett and Tatum Bell attempted and failed to step into the role as a premier NFL runner. Current Lions Kevin Smith and Jahvid Best have also come up short to carry the load as Detroit's go-to back due to injury history.
Now, all fingers point to second-year running back Mikel Leshoure.
General manager Martin Mayhew traded up in the second round to grab the bruising back from Illinois. The Lions were in search of a physical runner to complement the flashy, game-breaking style of Best. After a nasty Achilles tear in last year's training camp, Leshoure's premiere was put on hold.
Leshoure has been banged up during training camp with a hamstring injury, but he's still looking to make his NFL debut this Friday against the Oakland Raiders. However, after a marijuana incident this offseason, Leshoure will be forced to sit out the first two regular-season games of the year.
After that suspension is served, the buzz for Detroit's "next" running back should peak, and for all the right reasons.
The Lions are in a position to give Leshoure every chance possible to succeed.
Best's long-term health is still uncertain after a multitude of concussions since college. Kevin Smith is a formidable back but is not an every-down player that will be around for the next five to 10 years. Smith will be the starting running back for the first two regular-season games, but the Lions will look to start Leshoure after his suspension.
It's yet to be seen, but the Lions have a diamond in the rough sitting in their backfield. Leshoure not only runs with power, but he's also swift and fast enough to break a long gain every now and then.
He's also a superb pass-catcher out of the backfield, which fits great in Scott Linehan's offensive system. Linehan loves involving running backs in the screen game, which Leshoure can surely flourish in.
Last season, the Lions were a one-dimensional, pass-heavy offense that accumulated 5,038 yards by Matthew Stafford. However, the Lions struggled on third down throughout the season, ranking 20th in the league.
Detroit often found itself throwing on third down instead of being able to push forward on a short distance. The physical, hard-nosed running of Leshoure should help erase that issue for the Lions offense.
With the NFL becoming a quarterback-driven league, a standout performance won't be expected from Leshoure this season. The Lions have also invested heavily in their pass attack by adding Ryan Broyles as another toy for Stafford to play with this year. Even with Leshoure in the backfield, the Lions will still be known as a pass-first offense.
The Lions don't need another 5,000-yard season by Stafford to make the playoffs. The same goes for Leshoure in the running game. Detroit doesn't need, and probably won't get 1,000 yards or 15 touchdowns in Leshoure's first season.
However, with Best likely to spend some time on the sidelines, 800 yards and eight touchdowns is a strong possibility for Leshoure.
Detroit's run game has lacked excitement and production for a long stretch of football years. While the second coming of Barry Sanders won't be around for years, Leshoure should restore that life this coming season for the Lions.
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