When Kevin Smith went down with a nasty knee injury against the Ravens last December, the Lions' running back situation went from being pretty solid to completely up in the air heading into 2010. Smith, despite having to play through shoulder problems, was performing quite well before his season-ending injury and was really one of the bright spots on this team in my mind. Then he got injured and left us all wondering what will happen with the running back position in 2010.
As it stands right now, the Lions have pretty good depth at running back. Aaron Brown can come into games as a change of pace player and should continue to get better. Maurice Morris is a solid backup who did a pretty decent job of filling in for Smith in the final games of last season. And then you have Cedric Peerman and the newcomer DeDe Dorsey. Both players have potential and will compete for a spot on the active roster this summer.
The main problem for the Lions is that if Kevin Smith is not able to return from his ACL injury in time for the start of next season, there really isn't a starting-caliber back on the roster. I suppose Maurice Morris could fill in for Smith for a few games and the Lions would just have to deal with it, but I think most would agree that it would be nice to have a backup plan that extends beyond Morris.
Probably only the Lions and Smith really know where he's at in the recovery process right now, meaning what happens in the draft could potentially reveal a lot about his injury. The thing is, even if Smith does return in time for the start of the season and is healthy, there's no guarantee that he will be effective. Obviously the best-case scenario would be for Smith to come back sometime during training camp and pick up where he left off before his injury, but it takes time to build up strength after tearing an ACL. Some players take a year to truly get back to where they once were, so there's no guarantee that a healthy Kevin Smith is the same thing as an effective Kevin Smith.
Need going forward?
The general consensus among all of us Lions fans seems to be that the team needs to draft a starting-caliber running back just in case Smith isn't healthy or effective come September. Even if he is healthy, bringing aboard another running back that is capable of starting wouldn't be a bad thing at all. If the Lions could draft a player to complement a healthy Kevin Smith, then the running back position could become one of the strongest units on the entire team.
Like I already said, we should learn a lot about where Kevin Smith is at in the recovery process based on what happens in the draft. If the Lions do make a move to pick up a running back, it would reveal that Smith's status is still uncertain. If Detroit doesn't, however, then it would be safe to say that the Lions are comfortable with the running back position and that Smith will be back in time for the 2010 season. It's either that or Martin Mayhew has a different plan that will be executed after the draft, sort of similar to the move to sign Larry Foote last year. We were all wondering what the Lions were thinking when they passed on certain players that would have filled the need at middle linebacker, but Mayhew and company seemed to know that Foote would become available. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar played out this year at running back if the Lions decide not to select a back in the draft.