Well, it was bound to happen. From Mikel Leshoure’s Meet the Cubs scouting report:
LeShoure reminds me of another Lions running back, one who stood a very similar 6’-1”, 224: James Stewart. Stewart, like LeShoure, made a lot of hay between the tackles—and if Stewart lacked a certain je ne sais quoi in comparison, he probably hit a little bit harder. Both had excellent acceleration into “good” straight-line speed, both played faster than their reputation or clock times would suggest. Stewart, though, struggled mightily to stay healthy . . . let’s hope LeShoure doesn’t have that problem.
This morning Mikel Leshoure ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his 2011 Lions campaign, maybe his career, definitely the Lions’ playoff chances for the next five years, and also every reason you had to ever be happy again. Or, you know, not.
The culture of hype surrounding the NFL draft, and NFL draft picks, leads us to believe that every rookie drafted in the first few rounds should make an immediate impact on the bottom line. That every team should be counting on its first few picks to step in and excel. That each and every talented rookie will blaze the trail to your teams’ glorious new era of dominance and winning. Only a handful of rookies achieve anything like this kind of instant success in any given year, yet we all go on believing it will happen with next season’s first hundred picks.
Mikel Leshoure was drafted to fill a need; the Lions will miss him. Here’s another paragraph from that scouting report:
Mikel LeShoure looks to be an excellent complement to Jahvid Best, much the way Stewart combined with Fred Taylor in Jacksonville. This isn’t a “thunder and lightning” situation, like Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, or Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. Some folks had LeShoure rated as their #1 workhorse back due to Ingram’s injury concerns; he and Best will doubtlessly find a mutually beneficial workload ratio. Together, they’ll spell each other, make each other more effective, and back each other up—the Lions’ offense shouldn’t ever be without a tailback that can keep defenses honest.
So, you want to know, who will the Lions add to fill that role? Nobody. Nobody else will fill that role. Anyone who can be 1b to Jahvid Best’s 1a is on another roster. There are “goal line backs” and “big backs” and used-up “veteran backs” with names you’ve heard of, but anyone who’s available right now likely won’t be as good as Maurice Morris, who grades out as a sightly-below-average heavy-rotation running back. The Lions had a need for Mikel Leshoure—that doesn’t mean they have a need for Clinton Portis.
After Best, Leshoure, and Morris, the Lions have tailback Aaron Brown, and fullbacks Jerome Felton, Matt Clapp, on the roster, as well as H-back Preston Dial. Those four guys were likely fighting for one, or possibly two spots—Leshoure going on IR means two, or possibly three, of those guys will be kept. This coaching staff seems to love Felton as a runner (when he isn’t fumbling), so he may be the “goal line back” going forward.
Part of building depth is understanding that you may have to use that depth. Though the lockout injury bug has struck the Lions’ “luxury pick” rookies hard, the starting 22 looks essentially the same: the pressure is on Ndamukong Suh, Jahvid Best, and Nate Burleson to succeed, just as it was last season—just because their rookie backups didn’t hit the ground running doesn’t mean the teams’ fortunes don’t still rest on their shoulders.
The Lions' season is not lost. What the Lions have lost is some breathing room, some, margin for error, and the lottery ticket stub that Young, Leshoure or Fairley each represent. Last year, they won the Mega Millions with Suh; don’t think that just because the Powerball didn’t bounce their way in 2011 that these kids won’t become productive Lions soon. And, just because Mikel will be “pressing the pause button,” as Jahvid Best said, don’t think that you need to hit “Eject” on your hopes. The Lions’ short-tem picture has not dimmed; they will still win more games than they lose.