By now it's clear the Detroit Lions are not the team they were in 2011. Their offense, once considered one of the best in the NFL, is the reason why. They're in dire need of an upgrade, and Lions GM Martin Mayhew would be wise to target Denard Robinson in the 2013 NFL draft.
He might just be the missing piece to the Lions' championship puzzle.
Detroit's offensive struggles have been the same since Week 1, when they barely eked out a victory against the St. Louis Rams. They repeatedly start slow, receivers drop routine balls and no one besides Calvin Johnson has stepped up.
That perfectly sums up why the Lions are 4-7.
The offense is clearly missing something, but isn't this essentially the same team that won 10 games last season?
Not really. The Lions lost an integral part of their offense in Week 6, when Jahvid Best suffered a concussion. He's yet to return and the Lions have struggled to win without him.
The Lions started 5-0 in 2011 with Best in the backfield. Funny thing is, the problems that plague them this year were present during that win streak, too.
Best simply minimized their impact.
For instance, during that time, Detroit was outscored in the first half of games as well: 50-66. Not quite the deficit we've seen this year, but significant nonetheless.
With Best, those slow starts were manageable. One reason is that he gave the Lions what they lack now: a dual threat out of the backfield. He gained over 100 all-purpose yards in three out of those five games and added three touchdowns.
With all due respect to Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, they can't do what Best could.
He also made defenses play the Lions differently. They had to respect his big-play potential.
In doing so, it opened up space for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson to work their magic. Everyone remembers the start Johnson had last year. He was the biggest reason the Lions won five straight.
The presence of Best made it possible, though.
His impact cannot be overstated. It's even more obvious when you consider that Detroit is 9-14 (including one playoff loss) without him.
Denard Robinson is a Perfect Fit
The Lions' offense was at its best with Best on the field, and since he will likely never play again, they should make it a top offseason priority to replace him.
That's why they need to target Robinson. He was born to take over Best's role. In fact, he might be better at it.
As a quarterback at the University of Michigan, Robinson has been one of the most dynamic players in college football. He's racked up numerous passing, rushing and total-offense records during his tenure there. He's also racked up miles of highlight reel footage.
Regardless of records and highlights, he's not an NFL quarterback. At this point in his career, his ability to throw the football is simply not at the NFL level. He's a bit like Tim Tebow that way—except not as good.
That's why he'll enter the NFL draft as a receiver, according to ESPN.
Wide receiver or running back, he's versatile enough to benefit the Lions either way. There's no question he would bring the same big-play potential as Best.
He would also bring the same speed (4.32 40-yard dash) and elusiveness, and he's demonstrated his own innate ability to break off long runs for touchdowns.
According to Michael Spath at TheWolverine.com:
...when Robinson gets into the open field, accelerating with a burst perhaps unrivaled in college football, he usually scores—seven of his 11 career runs of 40 yards or more have reached the end zone.
...an 87-yard sprint, splitting two Notre Dame defenders; a 72-yard gallop against Indiana; the 41-yard score down the sideline against Ohio State last season; or the 58- and 79-yard TD dashes he had versus Air Force this fall—will never be forgotten.
Let's not forget the 67-yard score he pulled off on Saturday against Ohio State.
According to Spath, Robinson also has 34 career runs of 20 yards or more. Twenty-four of those didn't result in a touchdown, but the Lions would kill for that kind of threat coming out of the backfield.
They've only had two rushes over 20 yards all season and both were courtesy of Joique Bell on Thanksgiving.
With Bell and Leshoure, the Lions have solid running backs, but neither are the home-run threat that Robinson would be.
He'd be a dynamite return man, too, so watch out, Stefan Logan.
Given the Lions struggles, targeting a player like Robinson is a no-brainer. He'd have an immediate impact and make them one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL—once again.