O'Hara: Jahvid Best will be remembered for what kind of player he might have been

Posted Jul 17, 2013

On the one hand, a promising career has ended, on the other, the long-term effects of concussions have many questioning whether they are worth the risk

The unsurprising end to Jahvid Best's career with the Lions has a fitting taint of sadness because of the unfulfilled promise and lost opportunity of a young athlete who seemed destined for a special niche that could have been carved by his special talent.

In the end, Best will be remembered more for what his talent would have meant to the Lions than concussion issues that limited what he could accomplish in one full season and a snippet of another.

Jahvid BestRB Jahvid Best

Best's release by the Lions was announced Wednesday afternoon. He played 22 games in his first two seasons after being drafted in the first round in 2010. He sat out all of the 2011 season and did not take part in this year's offseason workouts.

Best had one year left on his original four-year rookie contract.

From his first game against the Bears as a rookie until what proved to be his last in Game 6 against the 49ers in 2011, Best lived up to the label of "matchup nightmare" put on him by all-time Lions icon Charlie Sanders.

Best was just that – a "matchup nightmare." His listed position was running back, but it just as easily could have been "playmaker," for that is the role he filled. He had explosive speed that caused defenses to account for his presence but still left them open to big plays, either runs out of the backfield or receptions.

Unfortunately for the Lions and Best, his career was ended by two concussions sustained in 2011. He left an exhibition game against the Browns with a concussion but returned to start the first six games of the regular season and contributed heavily to the Lions' 5-0 start.

It all ended for Best, and with lasting impact to the offense, in Game 6 against the 49ers. A concussion sustained late in that game ended his season. Ultimately, it proved to be the end of his career.

With increasing awareness of long-term effects from head injuries, the NFL is enforcing stricter rules for players who make contact with an opponent's head while also establishing a stronger protocol for the diagnosis and treatment of players who sustain concussions while regulating when – and if – they can return to action.

Best was not cleared to practice with any contact last season and missed the entire season. The fact that he did not participate in the offseason workout program this year made it obvious that his career was over in Detroit.

The only question was when that would happen. The end came on Wednesday.

The Lions' organization had a genuine warmth for Best. He worked hard to get back on the field and was surprised last year when he was not cleared to play under the NFL protocol. At one point Best referred to himself as "the poster child" for the NFL's new policy regarding concussions.

The Lions clearly missed Best's speed all season. The Lions tied the Chargers for the fewest runs of 20 yards or longer with four. By comparison, the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings lead the league with 33.

In the offseason, the Lions signed free agent Reggie Bush to make up for the void left by Bush's absence.

After last season, GM Martin Mayhew said not being prepared to have a replacement for Best was his biggest personnel mistake for the 2012 season. However, Mayhew also said he never expected that a player who was symptom free would not be allowed to play.

Best also said often last year that he was free of any symptoms of a concussion.

Mayhew spoke highly of Best in a statement released by the Lions, calling him "as fine a person and professional as I have ever worked with. He was the consummate teammate and always did everything asked of him."

Best had good words for the Lions in the same release.

"My time as a member of the Lions was a very special time in my life," he said. "I'll always be a Lion."

Best entered the NFL with questions from a concussion late in the 2009 season at Cal when he landed on his head in the end zone. It proved to be his last college play. He entered the NFL draft in 2010 after three years of college.

Best did not produce high volume as a runner or receiver. In his 22 pro games, he rushed for 945 yards and caught 85 passes for 774 yards. Those are not eye-popping stats.

His chief asset was the threat of the big play. He scored five TDs in his first two games as a rookie. One was on a 75-yard reception in Game 2 against the Eagles. Late in the season he had a 55-yard TD catch against the Dolphins.

His signature moment – one that defined the role he could have played – came in the Lions' 24-13 win over the Bears in Game 5 against the Bears at Ford Field in 2010.

It was a Monday Night TV game, and the Lions had the city and much of the NFL buzzing with their 4-0 start. Best was the star of the night, with 12 carries for 163 yards.

An 88-yard TD run sealed the game for the Lions. Best broke through a hole at the line and hit sixth gear in two strides. He was headed for the end zone before the Bears' defense could react.

That night gave a sign of what the Lions might have in their offense for seasons to come. Unfortunately, Best played only one more game. He was hurt the next week in the loss to the 49ers.

Ultimately, there is no clear-cut boundary to assess whether Best is a victim of the NFL's stronger concussion policy, or whether he is an athlete who might be saved by it.

On the one hand, a promising career has ended.

On the other, the long-term effects of concussions have many questioning whether they are worth the risk. It is one thing for an athlete to limp on a bad knee in his 50s. It's quite another not to be able to recognize one's relatives because of concussion-related trauma.

At least Jahvid Best can remember what kind of player he might have been.