Kevin Smith Rehab Update & What's Left in the RB Free Agency Pool

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Kevin Smith Rehab Update & What's Left in the RB Free Agency Pool

by John Gustafson, john@fantasylion.com (if you want to play against me in 2010, go here!)

I was taking suggestions on The Lion’s Facebook page and David from NY had a great question. He wanted to how Kevin Smith was recovering from his torn acl  and the Lions commitment to him if there is one. As a fan of Smith and a Smith owner last year, I set out to do some research. The first place I went was Kevin Smith’s website to his official blog. Smith said that he’s feeling good and thinks he’s right on schedule as he takes it day-by-day. He also said he’s rehabbing everyday and wants to come back stronger than ever, the best he’s ever been. There isn’t a timeline for his return and he’s doing everything except running but Smith said that although he’s not running, he knows he could.

As far as the Lion’s commitment to Smith, well that’s another issue. According to this article by Nicholas Cotsonika, the Lions are looking to upgrade at RB and are taking a patient approach with Smith. Coach Jim Schwartz expects Smith to be ready at some point but didn’t necessarily give Smith a full endorsement. “We have contingency plans,” Schwartz said. “We’d like to be a good running team, and to do that, you need to continually take care of your running back situation. Good teams generally have more than one running back.” Cotsonika’s article also mentioned that Lion’s general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL scouting combine in February that he expected to add a running back this off-season; the question is what role he would play. The Lions added DeDe Dorsey who was one of the players featured on the 2009 season of HBO’s Hard Knocks as he fought for a spot in the Cincinnati Bengals backfield. Dorsey brings some quickness, but the fact remains that he wasn’t in the league in 2009 and may have a hard time making the Lions roster.

The other 2 RBs from last year are Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown. Morris filled in nicely for Smith averaging 4.1 yards a carry, but isn’t the upgrade he’s looking for. The other option is 2nd year player, Aaron Brown, out of TCU. Brown produced a solid 4.9 yards per carry and caught 9 passes out of the backfield, but never had more than 4 carries in a game. Whether or not he could carry the load is yet to be seen. However, Brown like Morris is probably not the upgrade the Lions are seeking. Will they seek a RB in free agency? It’s a possibility based on who’s still available. Let’s take a look…

Free Agent RBs

  • Pierre Thomas, NO - Thomas would be an upgrade over Smith, but with the Saints letting Mike Bell go to Philly, Thomas should be staying in NO. The Saints do have Lynell Hamilton who could replace Bell in the NO’s 3-headed RB monster or the Saints could move to a Bush/Thomas 1-2 punch. Either way, I don’t see the Saints letting Thomas go.
  • Leon Washington, NYJ - Washington is probably an upgrade over Smith as well. Like Smith, Washington is returning from a season-ending leg injury so the Lions may not want to put their eggs in the injured RB basket. Washington is more explosive than Smith and can catch the ball well out of the backfield like Smith. For most of Washington’s career he’s split carries and only gone over 15 carries once in his career. This poses the question could Washington handle being the featured guy like Smith has been? I think he could, but at this point it looks like he’s staying in NY. I’m not convinced that he’s a 100% lock to stay there though. He may be a guy a team like SD or Hou would be intersted in.
  • Willie Parker, PIT - He’s considering staying in Pittsburgh. Parker is a Detroit native and would be a decent fit until Smith comes back, but I’d rather have Smith over Parker. I’ve never been that high on Parker. Is he an upgrade over Smith? Not in my opinion.
  • Lendale White, Ten - White is an intriguing option. Coach Schwartz has ties to Tennessee where he used to be the defensive coordinator so he’s familiar with White. White gets a bad rap, but he’s shown flashes. If the Lions were to show interest in White, he would give them a viable option on 1st and 2nd downs with Morris or Brown filling in on 3rd downs. It would also allow them to be more patient with Smith. White will likely cost a pretty penny, so the financials may not make sense. White has become quite disposable in Tennessee after Chris Johnson’s breakout year and the team’s affinity for their other RB, Javon Ringer.
  • Jerome Harrison, Cle - As most of you know, I love “The Ghost”. If I were Cleveland, I would be locking Harrison up and structuring my offense around the guy that led the team in rushing and tied for the team high in receptions. However, Harrison does play for a coach who took almost the whole season to realize that he should be the starter. Additionally, the Browns have 2 other young RBs who are capable in Chris Jennings and James Davis. Davis was drafted last year to be the heir to Jamal Lewis before going down with a season ending injury. The moves that the Browns have made this offseason tell me that they still don’t know what they’re doing so I could see Mangina and Holmgren make the mistake of letting Harrison go. If he does, then he’d be an upgrade over Smith and a great fit in this offense as Harrison can do it all.
  • Ryan Moats, Hou - Moats filled in nicely when starter Steve Slaton went down before going down himself. Houston has 3 guys who could compete for the job next year (Slaton, Moats, Arian Foster) but there’s also speculation that they’ll bring in a rookie via the draft. If that’s the case, then Moats could be the odd man out. Is he an upgrade over Smith? Probably not, but he’s a nice back. He would probably come cheaply though if the Lions were looking to bring in a guy to supplement Smith’s carries until Smith is 100% healthy.
  • Chris Brown, Hou - No not Rhiana’s ex-boyfriend. The other one. Brown isn’t an upgrade over Smith and probably not an upgrade over Morris/Brown for the Lions. I don’t think there’s any interest here for Det.
  • Jason Snelling, Atl - Snelling filled in nicely for Michael Turner last year. While Snelling does have some game, he’s not an upgrade over Smith.
  • Samkon Gado, Stl - He’s not an upgrade over Smith and there should be no interest in him from the Lions.
  • Kolby Smith, KC - This Smith will likely be the odd man out now that KC has brought in Thomas Jones. Smith has shown some flashes, but he’s not an upgrade over the Smith Detroit already has.
  • Ahman Green, GB - I doubt Green is playing for anyone in the NFL in 2010, next!
  • Jerious Norwood, Atl - He’s not the type of back they are looking for in regards to a full time starter and he’s not better than Smith. He does have quickness though, but the Lions have already brought in Dorsey. Norwood to Detroit doesn’t seem likely.

My feeling is the closer the draft approaches, the more likely the Lions will seek a RB through the draft. However, players are returning from ACL tears much faster than they used to so the Lions may avoid taking a RB in the draft to wait and see how Smith’s rehab progresses. If Smith still doesn’t have a timetable to return after the draft, then I’d look for the Lions to pursue one of the guys above. Ultimately, the Lions will probably take a RB in the draft with one of their mid-round picks while waiting on a post-draft evaluation of Smith before making a plunge in the free agent market. Then again, they could sign someone tomorrow and make all this analysis for not. =)

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