Regardless if it comes via the draft, trade or free agency, getting a number one back can only help franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford for years to come.
The real question is if the Lions pursue a running back in this year's draft, who would it be?
At first, my opinion was to obtain a running back via free agency or trade. But as I continued to write, my opinion changed that perhaps the best option to sign a top-flight running back would be via the draft.
We can forget about CJ Spiller, considered by many the top-rated running back in the 2010 NFL Draft. If he gets past Jacksonville at #10 or Seattle at #14, the New York Giants will nab him with the #15 pick as Giant GM would consider him the best player available.
Lions will need to look in the later rounds. I've narrowed down five options, ranging from round two to seven. And one of those options is NOT Jahvid Best.
Jahvid Best would not be the best fit in Detroit for a few reasons. He lacks the size and strength to be an effective power back. He isn't intimidated by the big bodies inside and has the ability to pop off big runs. He hits the hole quickly and can get by people with his speed. While some say we need a home run hitter, I think we already have that with Aaron Brown on our roster.
That already knocks out the three best backs, due to not fitting the Lions current scheme, or them not being available with the 34th selection, or Detroit's pick in the third round.
That leaves Ben Tate, the fourth rated back on my Board and in my opinion, the best fit for Detroit.
Tate is at his best as a downhill runner. He is big back at 5-11 and 219 lbs. He's not afraid to attack the line of scrimmage, and will settle for what the defense gives him. The typical power back will lower his shoulders and power through the line. Tate does that but once he gets into the secondary, with his 4.33 speed he can flat-out fly past linebackers and most defensive backs.
He also has the ability to cut back against the grain but at 5-11, his center of balance is pretty high which can work against him. He protects the ball in traffic but did have some fumbilitis in his career at Auburn.
The one intangible he has the Lions are looking for is a competitive fire and a desire to win. Then again, any player worth a darn is going to have that in their resumes.
These elements are what make him the best selection if he's available in the second round.
If Detroit chooses to go after a running back in the third round, it is unlikely that Tate would still be there. Lions should give a long look to Georgia Tech's Jonathon Dwyer, another big back at 5-11 and 229 lbs. He's a little less talented than Tate and could be there in the third round.
I had Dwyer rated higher, just behind CJ Spiller. But his stock dropped after lackluster performances in the NFL Combine and his Pro Day. His 1st 40 attempt at the Combine was 4.43 and his 2nd came in at 4.51 which dropped him even more. He appeared overweight which could be a danger sign. He did show good pass-catching skills which is always a plus in a Scott Linehan offense.
Detroit could likely grab Dwyer in the third round if they elect to go with a DB in the second round. Dwyer needs to focus on improving speed and getting into better shape. He is a powerful runner and is best at slugging it out in the trenches. A one-cut runner who attacks the line of scrimmage, gets skinny through the hole, and can gain yardage in chunks once he breaks through.
If the weight issue gets under control and his speed improves, he has shown the ability to run to the outside and break for some nice gains. His best skill is breaking tackles, something Detroit hasn't had in a back for a while.
And if they decide to pass up BOTH Dwyer and Tate?
That would make selecting a bit harder for the non-hardcore football fans, but if they do, Montario Hardesty out of Tennessee could be the choice.
If Hardesty was able to stay healthy in his career, he could have been a first or second day pick. Because of health issues, he could very well fall as far as the fourth round.
Hardesty has proven to be a legitimate workhorse with rare agility for a back his size. But teams will likely shy away from him due to three knee surgeries he's had while at Tennessee. Despite the surgeries, he has the second most carries in school history.
If he can stay healthy, Hardesty has the potential to become one the NFL's top running backs and a steal of a pick in the fourth round. Hardesty, like Tate and Dwyer, is also a back that can break tackles He lowers his pad level when in traffic and keeps his feet moving to gain as much positive yardage as possible. He has good vision and has the speed to take advantage of cutback lanes.
The Lions pass on Hardesty, Dwyer and Tate? Unimaginable, right? While the Lions won't have another pick until the seventh round there are still backs available that can be selected with the chance of being a starting back in the NFL.
Two backs to consider for round seven are Ryan Mathew's backup Lonyae Miller and Pat Paschall out of North Dakota State.
Lonyae Miller, a backup through most of his career at Fresno State, is one of the more intriguing players to watch in the draft.
While he is rated lower than most running backs due to the fact that was a backup, he has the capability to be an every down back if given the opportunity. He has similar talents as Hardesty, Dwyer and Tate but dances too much behind the line of scrimmage looking to tear off a big run instead of fighting for positive yardage.
He doesn't break tackles despite being 6-0 and 216 lbs. He keeps his feet moving throughout plays which shows desire and doesn't fumble the ball.
Lastly is my favorite late-round prospect Pat Paschall.
Not a well known player, he had some past character issues of the field. But he has shown to be a great player while on it. Despite being suspended one game in 2009, Paschall first in rushing in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, averaging 139.7 YPG. His 158.3 all-purpose YPG was ranked ninth in the nation.
So Detroit fans, with the choices listed, who would you select?
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