RB Jahvid Best (California) - Round 1, Pick No. 30
The Jahvid Best pick came as no surprise to Lions fans. After all, Martin Mayhew made it very clear in the weeks leading up to the draft that he was interested in adding a running back, and Best was a name often linked to the Lions in mock drafts, including the SB Nation one where I picked him for Detroit. The unexpected part of the Best pick was the fact that the Lions traded back into the first round for him. Most figured the Lions would stand pat at No. 34 and take the best available running back or cornerback, but with many of the top names already off the board, Detroit made a deal with Minnesota to move up and bolster their backfield by selecting Best.
Jahvid really never got a fair shake at Cal; his offensive line just couldn't block for him in the biggest games. At least his sophomore season he had 1st round pick Alex Mack at center and NFL draftee Will Ta'ufo'ou at fullback (that '08 line wasn't great, but it was good enough for Jahvid to wreak havoc at the end of the season, gaining nearly 900 yards in three games) Take a look at Jahvid in the Emerald Bowl (where his inside running lanes were the biggest I've ever seen at Cal, and we've had plenty for JJ Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, and Justin Forsett).
Unfortunately for him, the rest of the Cal offense was dysfunctional. We haven't had a real playmaker at receiver since Desean Jackson left in 08, and Cal's quarterback play ranged from average to outright bad with Best in the backfield (a curious aberration for Tedford offenses). 2009 was the worst--we basically had walk-ons and inexperienced linemen replacing Mack and Ta'ufo'ou; when we played strong defensive squads like Oregon, USC, ASU, and OSU, Best had his linemen slipping on tackles and not holding their ground, as well as defenses who never respected the throwing game and crowded in and suffocated Best's running lanes. If there's anything I'd worry about, it's whether the Lions O-line is strong enough to block for him and create open lanes for him. The Jet will fly if his line gives him room--he's strong enough to shed arm tackles, but full-on tackles might be a little bit tougher.
Best can do more than just scorch out of the backfield though. His pass blocking (his biggest weakness) has improved week-by-week. He can come out of the backfield and run routes. With the O-line struggling, we put Best in more passing situations where he could be used as a dump-off option (lots of examples in the 09 video), so if pass protection breaks down he could become a secondary option for Stafford to rely on. He would also occasionally run a deep wheel route where he'd mismatch on a linebacker and storm past him to the end zone (example in 2:30), so if Stafford can uncork it that could be a fun little wrinkle to try out. He's also a gifted returner, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's given kick return responsibilities early on.
What he brings: Best has just as much quickness and explosiveness as C.J. Spiller, but durability issues caused him to slide down the board. The thing you really like about Best is his lateral movement and ability to accelerate through cuts. He also has great vision to bounce it to the outside as well as home run speed. If he can remain healthy, Best could make a substantial impact on the offense.
How he fits: Kevin Smith is coming off reconstructive knee surgery and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry before going down. The offense was without big plays in the running game and that is what Best brings to the table. Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown both performed admirably in place of Smith, but neither has the quickness, agility or explosion Best brings to the table. This is a very good value pick.
Positives: Elusive ball-carrier who consistently displays the ability to create his own yardage. Terrific athlete who combines quickness, speed, and explosion. Patient, effectively uses his blocks and weaves his way on the inside, picking and choosing his spots. Finds the cutback lanes, quickly gets through them and has a burst of speed. Beats defenders into the open field and then runs to daylight. Loses no momentum when he must immediately change direction, and easily beats defenders around the corner. Quick-footed, sets up defenders and then makes them miss. Slides to the inside and squirts through the small openings of the defense. Terrific pass catcher who lines up on the flanks and displays the ability to get downfield to make game- changing receptions.
Negatives: Not a strong ball-carrier and easily brought down on initial contact or by the first defender. Stopped dead in his tracks by tackles. Recent rash of concussions will raise red flags.
Best is an explosive ball carrier that has the speed to turn a missed tackle into a long touchdown run. He has been productive as a runner as well as a return specialist. He missed the final four games of the 2009 season after sustaining a concussion and sore lower back in the game against Oregon State (11/7/2009). He is a patient runner that does a good job of setting up his blocks and squeezing through small run lanes. He has an explosive burst through the hole and has enough power and leg strength to run through arm tackles but is not big, or powerful enough to move piles. He shows good balance on contact and will fight for yards.
Final Word: Best has showed elite ability with the ball in his hands and has the potential to be a big time playmaker at the next level. His speed and quickness can be a factor from day one and every offense is always looking to add another player that is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. With that said, Best does not have the frame, bulk, or strength to handle every down duty in the league. The lack of ability to break tackles and pass protect are alarming red flags that cannot be overlooked. On top of that, Best suffered a severe concussion and neck injury in 2009 that ended his season early and is will be coming in to the league with some surgery history to both his elbow and ankle. Now if he can be put in to a system where is a change of pace back, his value to a team will be tremendous. But if he is depended upon to be on the field for 30+ plays per game, his flaws will be exploited. With that said, Best has top 10 ability but his weaknesses are tough to overlook and it could bump him down to the middle of the 2nd round.
Ridiculous dive into the end zone against Oregon State in 2009, leading to his injury:
93-yard touchdown run (HD):
- Full workout at NFL Combine
- Career highlights
- 2009 highlights
- Another 2008 highlights video
- Highlights against Maryland in 2009 (HD)
- Highlights of his 311-yard day against Washington
- 34-yard run against Tennessee in 2007
- 80-yard touchdown run against Washington State on the first play of the game in 2008
- 2007 state final 100-meter run
- Running through a few defenders against Michigan State
- Running on his "hometown hill" (HD)
- Interview from June 2009 (part 1)
- Interview from June 2009 (part 2)
- Sport Science
Outlook for 2010
Jahvid Best is coming into an unclear situation where the returning starter, Kevin Smith, is recovering from multiple injuries. I don't know how much Kevin Smith's health will affect how much playing time Best gets, because Best will be on the field in a variety of ways to make plays. If Smith is healthy, then the hope is that both players' workload will not be too big, allowing each to do their own thing and complement each other. If Smith is unable to be on the field, however, Best might see more playing time, but I think the Lions' plans for him aren't necessarily dependent on where Kevin Smith is at health-wise. Either way, Best will be on the field to make plays, and just from watching some of the videos I posted and linked above, he could very well be a threat to score on every single play if his game translates well to the NFL.
Previously: Ndamukong Suh