First off, my apologies. This piece was supposed to appear on Monday, but did not publish correctly. This week, the Lions Congregation takes a look at the situation in the backfield behind best with a couple of restricted free agents – Kevin Smith and Jerome Felton. Have a question or topic? Email Lionscongregation@yahoo.com
This Week’s Panel:
Al of the Wayne Fontes Experience
Zac of The Sidelion Report
Blades Boyd – Contributor
Steve of Detroit Lions Weblog
Latif of House of Spears
NetRat of NetRat Detroit Lions Page
Question from Joseph B: With Felton demanding more of a role and the limited availability of Kevin Smith the prior seasons, what is the thinking of the front office going into the off season with these two players?
Al: I'm thinking they may have even less playing time than they did this past season. There's a reason both Smith and Felton made noises about wanting to leave Detroit (though Smith quickly backpedaled away from his original statement, and...well, no one really cares about Felton). They may have seen the writing on the wall.
Felton is a natural fullback, a position the Lions don't have much use for due to their preponderance of two tight end sets...for good reason. Who would you rather see on the field? Journeyman Jerome Felton or a combination of the extremely productive Brandon Pettigrew and play-making Tony Scheffler? I know who I want to see on the field...and it isn't the fullback.
The Lions may try to find a big back capable of running between the tackles in the coming months, as, to be blunt, Felton has proven to not be that guy. He doesn't move the pile, and committed some costly fumbles in the attempt. What potential Felton once had has become nothing more than unfulfilled promise. I'd rather see Maurice Morris or a healthy Smith in a short yardage situation.
As for Smith, he still fancies himself as a feature back, though his production, injury history and lack of speed says otherwise. But he's under contract for another season, so it doesn't matter what Smith thinks he can do. It's what the Lions think Smith can do, and they must believe he's a backup...why else would they have drafted Jahvid Best in the 1st round last year?
If the Lions can improve their backfield depth, they will. But I doubt they'll spend a high draft pick or much money to do it. Which means we could very likely see Smith and Felton, whom are still under contract, return in the same roles they had this past season. Smith as the backup to Best, and Felton as the fifth running back, and only fullback, on the depth chart.
But if the Lions felt the need to move on from both backs, and let them walk, I doubt it would break any hearts...including that of the players themselves.
Zac: It is often impossible to know what the front office is thinking so I will tell you what they should be thinking. They should be willing to bring Kevin Smith and Jerome Felton back next year but only on the organization’s terms. Let’s be honest, Smith and Felton are both easily replaceable and the Lions aren’t in such a desperate position that they need to bow down to either guy.
Jahvid Best will be the number one running back going forward and Smith hasn’t shown a whole lot to distinguish himself from Maurice Morris. Jerome Felton failed to prove that he is a viable option to the team’s short yardage woes. He does bring some versatility to the table but there is no use keeping him around if he isn’t going to be content in his limited role. Simply put, he doesn’t deserve an expanded role.
I’m fine with both guys remaining as Lions into next year as long as they understand and accept their place in the depth chart. If they aren’t willing to accept that then the Lions have reason to keep them around.
Blades: Felton is an interesting case because it seems he's a bit over valued. Now the question becomes is he over valued because of his potential or is because he's really that good. There's little doubt he's a good short yardage running back but he hasn't shown much else. He reminds me a lot of Kuhn from Green Bay. He'll never outrun anyone but can get the yards when needed. It's interesting but I think you will see the Lions use a lot more single TE sets with a full back in the game. Felton saw limited action because often the Lions would use a double TE look in the running game. If you watch the game when Morris rushed for over 100 yards, you'll see the Lions used less double tight end sets which lead to the success.
As for Kevin Smith, I've always been a huge fan but there's just something about running back who play for the Lions that wear number 34. It's a bad omen!!' James Stewart, Kevin Jones and now Kevin Smith are or were all top talents at the RB position but injuries quickly ruined their careers. Kevin Smith would be a great #2 because he can run, catch and block but by the sounds of things, he still wants to be a starter and don't be surprised if he seeks a trade in the offseason. Hopefully he gets healthy and can still reach his full potential!
Steve: In my opinion, neither player should figure too heavily into the Lions future plans, when push comes to shove.
Felton, more of a hybrid fullback, than a true blocking, power fullback, has exhibited some playmaking ability, but has never taken ahold of the short-yardage and goal line back role that has been seemingly there for his taking.
In regards to Felton, I am of the opinion that the Lions could do worse, but if an opportunity for an upgrade presents itself, the Lions need to take a look at it.
If the Lions are going to become a true, power running between the tackles, play action, vertical passing brand of team (which would seem to suit Matthew Stafford), a hard-nosed fullback would go along ways towards helping to improve their offense.
As far as Smith is concerned, there are some things to like about his hands and his edgy brand of play. That being said, his lack of true breakaway burst and a growing propensity towards injury makes him very expendable in my eyes.
I do not believe that Jahvid Best will ever become a pure, north-south, between the tackles runner. I believe that the Lions could benefit from a split back situation that pairs the shifty, gamebreaking Best with a tough, between the tackles runner, who still possesses the afterburner's to break big plays.
With the Lions picking at #13, even with considering much they need help on defense, I believe that they should take a long hard look at Mark Ingram, Jr. from Alabama. If Ingram, Jr. grades out worthy of being selected near pick #13, and all of their top defensive options are gone, the Lions could possess a down right explosive offense, with Ingram's addition.
If nothing else, the addition of a veteran like Ronnie Brown might be an option, too.
Latif: I can see Jerome Felton coming back as a Lion. He is a restricted fee agent, but there aren't any teams dying to sign him away from the Lions. Early in the season, the Lions tried to use him as a power back, but that really isn't what he is cut out to be. He is a decent option as a receiver every now and then and does a good enough of a job blocking. In my opinion, he is an average fullback in the NFL, but definitely doesn't need to be replaced. Personally, I would like to see him gone. Like I said, he is just average as a fullback and the Lions seemed to run better with Heller as the fullback. Heller obviously isn't a long term option, but there are some good ones out there. The first name that comes to mind is LeRon McClain. He is unhappy with his role in Baltimore, and he could definitely fill both roles of a power back and fullback very well. I'm not quite sure if McClain would come to Detroit, and would still take a fullback role, but he definitely is worth looking into.
As far as Kevin Smith goes, I think his time in Detroit and maybe even career in the NFL is over. Its been back to back seasons that he has ended up the IR, and has averaged less than four yards a carry. Plus, he already came into the NFL with a ton of millage. He will have to be replaced by someone, and I think Michael Bush is the best option in free agency (assuming he is a free agents). The next best option would be to draft a back in the mid rounds (3rd to 5th) because there are plenty of good backs in those rounds, but of course that requires the Lions front office to scout properly, which they have done in the past two years.
NetRat: I believe Felton will see some competition in camp and may or may not make the final roster... in addition, he may be trade bait should anything come up. Meanwhile, I re-tweeted this tweet earlier today. @Omar Kelly RT by @theNetRat Ran into Lions RB Kevin Smith during my morning workout. He's a restricted free agent and told me to tell the Dolphins: "Come get me." So Kevin Smith (RFA most likely) doesn't sound as if he likes the snow (that's a joke by the way).
This is why I commented on Kowalski's recent article that I wouldn't be so quick to rule out a RB in round 1 of the draft should one rate significantly higher then any defensive guy who might still be there at 13.
Thank you again for joining the Lions Congregation! See you for another ifseason edition next Monday!