There's been a full week of practice at the Senior Bowl, and thankfully, the Detroit Lions have outlined and admitted their obvious need at running back. Hopefully, though, they refuse to let the element of speed blind them to the important issue of durability at the position come April.
Certainly, if you've been reading any of the coverage from a Lions perspective, you know that Kenjon Barner is perhaps set to become one of Detroit's top draft targets. From many published reports, (including this one by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press), the Lions like Barner's game for the same reason they liked Jahvid Best's in 2010. He's elusive in the open field, can catch the ball and even has doubled as a returner on special teams. All the while, he's got massive amounts of speed to burn.
However, Barner's injury past, although not completely identical to Best's, does include a similar parallel as well. After being knocked completely unconscious in a 2010 contest against Washington State, Barner missed the next two games and a bye week before returning to action for Oregon. Though he was never injured again, that alone should be enough to worry the Lions, who are coming off the frustrating loss of Best due to repeated concussions.
At this point, durability and not speed should be the biggest concern the Lions have with their backfield. Mikel Leshoure rebounded unexpectedly well after a knee injury stole his rookie season in 2011. Now, the Lions have the chance to complement him with another runner with a slightly different skill set that can take the pressure off. There should be no edict which says that runner has to be Best's body double, however.
As I wrote earlier this week, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor, who's also been impressing scouts, should be considered Detroit's best option. He's shifty enough to be a change of pace from Leshoure, yet thick enough at 216 pounds to take an NFL-style beating at the line of scrimmage. Can the same be said for the 195 pound Barner? Nobody can answer that question with an unequivocal "yes." Though both are the same height, Taylor doesn't come with a head injury red flag. At this point, that should be the trump card against him.
There's more than one way to replace Best than by becoming enamored with his exact body double. Plenty of other runners with skills exist in this draft, be them Taylor, Mike Gillislee or even Andre Ellington. Alfred Morris had perhaps the best season of any rookie runner in 2012, and nobody would have considered him a burner. Speed should simply not be the only requirement in Detroit's job interview at running back.
The fact that none of the other mentioned runners have sustained a serious head injury should only serve to elevate their stock in the eyes of the Lions. In a world where teams must protect their best assets and keep important players healthy, this is perhaps the saddest new reality.Andre Ellington, Detroit, Detroit Lions, Football, Jahvid Best, Kenjon Barner, Mike Gillislee, Mikel Leshoure, NFL, Stepfan Taylor
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