29 June 2011

Mikel Leshoure: What Can the Detroit Lions Expect from Rookie RB in 2011?

Along with all the selections the Lions made in the 2011 NFL Draft, the pick of Mikel Leshoure in the second round has captured the interest of the Lions faithful. Although the trade that allowed Detroit to pick him can be questioned, what he brings to the team is exactly what they need moving forward to complement Jahvid Best.
However, the question still remains as to whether he will produce big in his first season. Last year the Lions running backs struggled to run between the tackles because of the generally poor run blocking of the interior of the offensive line. This could bode badly for Leshoure, who will primarily be asked to pound the rock up the middle when he gets the ball. If the run blocking is bad and there are defenders in the backfield, it could be a disappointing and possibly injury-plagued rookie season for the Illinois alumni.
On the positive side, Leshoure has the frame to make plays without help from his blockers unlike the smaller and faster Best. He is 6'0" and 230 lbs, and carries his weight very well. He has powerful legs and a broad chest, and when he runs he has good bend which will go a long way to stopping serious injury concerns by forcing defenders to tackle his thick thighs or powerful shoulders. His running style and bulk should also help his smash through arm tackles and make plenty of yards after contact.
Leshoure also has surprising speed and quick feet that allow him to make the most of cut-back lanes and find the hole in the offensive line. This is likely to be very important given the struggles of the line last year. While not supremely agile, he can make defenders miss in space, or at least force arm tackles.
He was also a good receiver in college who has safe hands and can make decent yards after the catch on checkdown passes and especially screen plays. He does not rival Best in this regard, but is still solid. He also never fumbled the football for Illinois and will be a very safe running back to give the ball to when it is time to run down the clock.
Despite all the positives about his game, I think he will not produce great stats in his rookie season. Because most of his carries will be up the gut, the blocking is key, and if it does not improve he will have to break tackles just to get back to the line of scrimmage. For this reason, I think that our newest running back will run for 700 yards at an average of about 3.5 yards per carry. However, he will actually play very well, breaking tackles and making plenty of yards after first contact. Also, because he will be given the lion's share of goal line carries, he should also record about six rushing touchdowns.
In the receiving game, I expect him to perform better statistically. He looks able to record 25 receptions for 230 yards and two touchdowns with ease, and his ability to do this will make him a true every down running back. In fact, I would not be surprised if he became the featured running back in Detroit by week 10 of 2011, pushing Best to play a role similar to Reggie Bush as an x-factor running back, receiver and return man.
Although his rookie season may be a disappointment after the bar has been set so high for this young man, he should play very well, and be set for a 1,000-plus-yard explosion in his sophomore year when the Lions make significant strides in the running game. The future looks bright for Mikel Leshoure.


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