Allen Park— Lions fans still wonder how this season would have been different with a healthy Matthew Stafford under center.
But I’m curious how the season would have been different with a healthy Jahvid Best.
“We saw early in the year and in preseason what Jahvid Best is and what he will be,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “But we didn’t see that for most of the remaining part of the season except for glimpses over the last (three or four) games.”
Two separate turf toe injuries started hampering Best in Week 3, and he was never the same.
Best scored the Lions’ first five touchdowns to start the season, the first NFL player to accomplish the feat since Dutch of the Decatur Staleys in 1920.
Best rushed for 78 yards with two touchdowns and caught nine passes for 154 yards with one score in Week 2 against the Eagles, becoming the first rookie in NFL history with at least 75 rushing yards, 150 receiving yards and three touchdowns in a game. His 154 receiving yards are the most by a rookie running back in the Super Bowl era.
Then, it all stopped. The touchdowns stopped. There weren’t any more big plays. There wasn’t much of a Lions run game.
After the injuries, Best failed to rush for more than 59 yards in his next eight games.
“The biggest thing (turf toe) does is it just changes your style of play,” Best said. “I didn’t feel like I could cut or explode the way I could.”
Even without Stafford, the Lions ranked among the top half in the NFL in passing, averaging 238.1 yards per game. Shaun Hill, and to an extent Drew Stanton, held down the fort in Stafford’s stead.
But without a healthy Best, and an injured Kevin Smith, the run game ranked 23rd, averaging 100.8 yards per game.
The Lions became one-dimensional and thus easier to defend. A healthy Best could have provided some big-play capabilities in the run game and would have helped the offense control the ball, which would have helped keep an improved defense off the field more.
Best battled through the painful injury and managed 1,042 total yards from scrimmage to become the sixth rookie in team history with 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He also had 52 receptions, the second-most in team history by a rookie (WR Roy Williams, 54 in 2004).
But he wasn’t the explosive player he was at Cal, and certainly not the player that got Schwartz so excited after the Lions moved back into the first round to draft him last year.
People around here are unquestionably eager to get their franchise quarterback back on the field and healthy next season. But they should be as equally excited to get one of their fastest players and one of their most explosive weapons back healthy, too.
“I definitely felt like I showed a little bit of myself this year but I think you’ll see a lot more next year,” Best said.