Mikel Leshoure was drafted in the second round by Detroit last year and had plenty of promise for a strong season in front of him. Unfortunately, it never happened. Leshoure ran into defensive lineman Cliff Avril in a training camp drill and tore his Achilles tendon, ending his season in August.
Despite having as many NFL carries as I do, I’m still very high on Leshoure’s outlook as a sleeper for the 2012 fantasy football season. Here’s why.
The Detroit Lions running game was unimpressive in 2011. The Lions finished 29th in rushing offense averaging 95.2 yards per game. None of the running backs broke through the 400-yard mark for the season. Jahvid Best led the way with 390 yards on 84 carries before suffering a concussion in a week six loss to San Francisco that shelved him for the rest of the year. Detroit went to a real running back by committee situation with Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, Keiland Williams and Jerome Harrison taking handoffs from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford excelled through the air and was one of three quarterbacks passing for more than 5,000 yards in 2011 (Brady, Brees) and it made the Lions virtually abandon the running game.
In 2012, everything lines up for Leshoure to have a breakout season. Leshoure missed all of last season but his injury happened early enough to allow him to fully recover for the start of training camp.
Best continues to have issues with concussions. He suffered two last season and has three in his young NFL career. He’s said to be healthy enough to be back on track for 2012′s training camp but he is definitely a risk to be shut down for the season with another blow to the head. The Lions hope he can get back to his 2010 form when he racked up 1,042 yards of total offense and six touchdowns but if injuries slow him down, Leshoure would be ready to pounce.
When you look at their running styles, Best isn’t the kind of back to make his money running between the tackles but Leshoure is. I looked at his highlights from his collegiate breakout season of 2010 at the University of Illinois and saw a couple very promising things.
Leshoure has the strength to take on defenders head-on and usually win, running over several of them in the highlight package. He’s also a running back who always keeps his feet moving forward when he has the ball. He’ll try to make a move on a defender but does so several yards downfield instead of at the line of scrimmage. Leshoure also has a gift for making defenders miss which will help him get to the second and third level of the defense.
In his junior year, Leshoure finished up with 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns on 281 carries. He added 196 yards and three touchdowns on 17 receptions. Those numbers are impressive, but there’s one that stands out even more, zero. That zero is the number of times he fumbled the ball in 461 total touches over his three years at Illinois.
With Best and Leshoure in the backfield, I expect Detroit to run more in 2012. The Lions need to do this in order to keep wide receiver Calvin Johnson out of double-coverage situations, rest the defense more often and keep defenses honest.
I like Leshoure at worst to be the goal-line back to vulture touchdowns away from Best, and at best be the main man most of the season if Best’s concussion history sneaks up on him. With the hunger Leshoure has to prove himself as a second-round pick, I think he’s going to be a sleeper for your fantasy roster in 2012.