With the release of running back Kevin Jones and the Seattle Seahawks' signing of running back T.J. Duckett, the Detroit Lions are left scrambling to find reliable help for their now No. 1 back Tatum Bell.
In Jones, the Lions let go of a talented but somewhat fragile player that never really reached his full potential in Detroit. He was never able to put together a full season after his rookie year in 2004, when he played in 15 games and ran for 1,133 yards and five touchdowns. After that, he never reached the 700-yard mark in a season.
Duckett, a big, bruising back who went to Detroit from the Washington Redskins after a productive tenure with the Atlanta Falcons where he scored at least eight touchdowns each season from 2003-2005, never got things going with the Lions. He left for Seattle, a team that values the run much more than the Lions did under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
As things stand now, Bell looks like the clear starter, with running backs Brian Calhoun and Aveion Cason behind him on the depth chart. Neither has very much experience in their careers, while Bell, in his last two years with the Denver Broncos rushed for 925 yards in 2005 and 1,025 yards in 2006 before going to Detroit. His first season was somewhat controversial when it was reported that he demanded a trade because he felt his role in the offense was too small. He spent much of the season on the inactive list. With the pass-happy Martz out of the equation this year, Bell could see the amount of work he needs to prove himself in the Lions rushing attack.
That said, look for the Lions to select a running back early in this year's draft. The 2008 NFL Draft looks to boast a very deep running back class, so they could choose to bypass the running back position with the 15th overall pick and attempt to address their backfield in Round 2 with the 45th selection.
It's a sure thing that by the time the Lions get to make their first selection, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden will be well off the board. However, tailbacks Jonathan Stewart (Oregon) and Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois) figure to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, so it's possible that either of them could become Detroit's first-round selection. Using their pick on running back Felix Jones, another Arkansas product would probably be a stretch at this point with the amount of talent they should be available later in the draft at the position. The Lions clearly have other pressing needs so it is by no means a lock they will select a running back in Round 1.
Bell could enter the preseason as the No. 1 running back, but look for him to be pushed by whatever running back the team drafts. The Lions have indicated drafting a running back is a top priority.
With that, it's hard to say how Bell will fare with new offensive coordinator, and former offensive line coach, Jim Colletto running the show. Indications are he should do better as Colletto can take some credit for some pretty potent running games such as the 2003 Baltimore Ravens, for whom current Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards. At this point, Bell is at best a No. 3 fantasy running if he can maintain his current status as the team's primary back - a title he has largely achieved by default. Assuming the Lions do invest a high-round pick on a running back, Bell should be viewed as No. 4 fantasy option. Any other running back on Detroit's current roster is not worth a spot on your fantasy team.
About Ray Hinnant
Ray has been with KFFL since 2006.
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