The season for the Detroit Lions is basically over after suffering an overtime loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving day. It is time for the Lions to start looking towards next season and starting to focus on what their needs will be for next season. The running back position has been one of the hardest for the Lions to fill in the last two seasons but they might have a starting running back on their roster already. Is it time to name Joique Bell as the starter for the remainder of the season?
Bell, a Benton Harbor Michigan native, has been eased into the lineup for the Lions this season and has shown a few glimpses of his play making potential. The Wayne State product and Harlon Hill award winner has been particularly adroit at pass catching out of the backfield and leads the team in yards per carry when he runs the football.
The Lions are currently ranked 22nd in the league running the football and have struggled to find consistency at the position. In order to achieve a more balanced offense, the Lions are going to have to find a dependable back because they aren’t going to win many games with QB Matthew Stafford putting the ball in the air 61 times as he did against Houston.
Jahvid Best’s return to the football field is in serious question. He suffered a concussion mid way through the 2011 season and has yet to return. Kevin Smith was re-signed this season but has fallen down the depth chart. Smith is always an injury risk. Mikel Leshoure is getting his first action in his second season. The Illinois product averaged 6 yards per carry in college, but is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry in the NFL.
Leshoure is simply not explosive enough. His longest run of the season is 16 yards. He does lead the team in rushing yards, but has just 1 100-yard effort on the year. Leshoure has carried the ball 136 times for the Lions this season, but if Bell had the equal amount of carries, he would be leading the Lions with 674 yards.Compared to Leshoure’s longest run, Bell has a rush for 26 yards this season and a reception for 50 yards.
Bell rarely carries the ball out of the backfield for Detroit but when he does, he’s very effective. Seven carries against the Eagles for a 5.4 average. Five carries against the Texans for a 9.4 average. In his only appearance this season with more than seven carries, Bell had 13 touches for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bell had an illustrious college career and has bounced around the NFL landing on the practice squads of the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles. The New Orleans Saints added him to their active roster just prior to the playoffs last season before signing with the Lions at the start of this year.
Bell has been replaced in passing downs recently by Kevin Smith because of his limited pass blocking ability, but he should be running the ball more for the Lions.
With nothing to lose, Detroit should try to line Bell up in the backfield as the starter and feed him the ball 20 times in a game. I think if the Lions tried that experiment for the remainder of the season, they might just realize they have had their starting running back on the roster the entire season. Bell will be a restricted free agent next season.