Messin’ With the Best

NFL defenses cannot seem to figure out how to stop Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

After suffering a concussion three years ago, it was uncertain if University of California’s Jahvid Best would ever be anything more than an explosive college running back.  In his junior year, Best suffered a concussion against Oregon State and it caused his NFL draft stock to drop significantly but Best thought he was ready for the bigtime and decided to forego his senior year.

Best had the talent and the skill set – running the third fastest 40 yard dash time in the NFL Scouting Combine – to earn him a top 10 selection in the draft, but his prior injury forced him to watch player upon player get selected before him.  Finally the 5-foot-10, 200 pound back was selected No. 30 overall, the last pick of the first round, by the Detroit Lions.

Amongst other positions, Detroit was in need of a running back and Best fell perfectly into their lap.  The Lions haven’t had a franchise running back since Barry Sanders retired in the late 1990s, however it looks like that dry spell might be over.

The Lions have missed the playoffs since 1999 but are now 5-0.  It’s their best start since 1956 and Best is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success.  Best finds success running when he can get to the outside, at which point his speed can win him nearly any one-on-one battle.  The Lions’ offensive line has been among the best in the league this season, allowing Best to also run between the tackles with relative ease.  Last week he had the biggest performance of his career, rushing for 163 yards in a win against the division-rival Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.

But Best is more than just a typical running back, he is also a threat as a receiver.  He comes from the same mold as Marshall Faulk and Brian Westbrook before him, using his hands and speed to make him the ultimate threat.  Best has already racked up 214 yard receiving this season, averaging 10.2 yards per catch.  Those numbers are good enough for third on the team.

With so many threats around him, opponents are trying to figure out ways to stop Best.  The Bears managed to do a good job in the first half last week but after allowing him to run 88 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, they simply couldn’t get back to shutting down Best.

The San Francisco 49ers are the next team that must find away to stop the Lions and their dangerous running back.  The Niners are off to their best start in years as well and are one of the NFL’s best run stopping defenses, giving up just 76.4 rushing yards per game.  In fact, the Niners haven’t allowed a running back to rush for 100 yards in 27 straight games, which is the longest streak currently in the NFL.

The Lions are expecting another big game from Best who returns home, but not just because he gets to play in front of family and friends.  Best grew up an Oakland Raiders fan and hated the five-time Super Bowl champion Niners, which could makes Sunday’s game all the more sweet.

It’s not all about Best though; there are plenty of weapons on this Lions offense that team’s need to address on the defensive side of the ball.  Teams have been forced to change their whole scheme due to wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  He is on pace to break  Randy Moss’s single-season touchdown record for a wide receiver of 23, which he set back in 2007 with the New England Patriots.  Johnson – the man they call “Megatron,” – already has nine touchdowns, to accompany his 451 receiving yards.

The Lions have the individual talent they have lacked in recent years and have a few guys who should put up career numbers.  Detroit is not concerned about individual stats however, because when it comes right down to it the most important thing is winning football games and Best knows that.

They [Detroit] know what this team's been through. I can definitely feel the sense of how hungry the city is," Best said after Monday’s win.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.