Detroit Lions Free Agent Primer: Running back

Posted Mar 6, 2013

Which Detroit Lions are under contract, hitting free agency and who will be on the market?

The Lions have obvious needs on the defensive side of the football, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t benefit from another playmaker or two on offense.

The Lions ranked third in total offense (408.8 ypg) last season, but only 23rd running the football.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month that he wants more "explosive runs" from a ground game that had just four runs of 20-plus yards in 2012, tied for lowest in the league.

A lot of this need depends on the prognosis of Jahvid Best, who hasn’t played since Week 6 of 2011 because of concussions. General manager Martin Mayhew is on record as saying he will have a backup plan for Best in place heading into 2013.

Position: Running back

Lions under contract: Jahvid Best (Physically Unable to Perform), Mikel Leshoure, Devin Moore

Jahvid Best

Lions free agents: Jerome Harrison (Non Football Illness), Joique Bell (Exclusive Rights), Kevin Smith.

Who’s out there: Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Woodhead, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Felix Jones, Justin Forsett, Bernard Scott

Analysis: You’ll notice that some big names like Stephen Jackson aren’t included in this list. That’s because the Lions are looking for a big-play back with speed and hands to compliment what they already have in Leshoure and Bell. This list only includes players that fit that job description.

Bush fits exactly what the Lions are looking for. He’s explosive in space and creates matchup problems in the passing game, which is exactly what Best provided the Lions offense when healthy.

The Lions utilizes the running back position in the passing game quite a bit and that should interest Bush. Best had 58 catches in his only full season with the Lions as a rookie in 2010 and had 27 in six games in 2011.

Bush is at his best in space.

About that big-play potential Schwartz is looking for, Bush has 11 career touchdowns (rushing and receiving) on plays of more than 20 yards, not including five punt return touchdowns.

Bradshaw has had some injury troubles over his career but  is a versatile player -- when healthy -- who’s rushed for 1,000 yards twice in his career and has 104 career receptions over the last three seasons.

Woodhead seems to have great natural instincts as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield and is a terrific short-route receiver in the passing game. The one knock there would be his big-play potential.

A career backup, Forsett has a career 4.9 average yards per rush and recorded 41 receptions in 2009 with the Seahawks. Lions fans might remember him for his 81-yard touchdown run as a Texan in last season's Thanksgiving Day game. That touchdown should have never been a score because he was down by contact, but the officials missed it and the Lions couldn’t challenge the play because Schwartz had thrown the challenge flag. 

Stephens-Howling lacks the size (5-7, 185) to be a true No. 1 running back, but he can provide a change-of-pace with his speed on third down.