Ask any Lions fan and they'll most certainly tell you Matt Millen was conceived for the sole purpose of investing blindly in overrated collegiate talent. Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams are just a few draft missteps that floundered spectacularly under his watch.
However, rookie rusher Kevin Smith could rid D-Town of its draft misfortune. Heck, the demonstrative folks at FireMillen.com might be willing to retire their "Sack Matt" t-shirts if he pans out. Ok, that's highly unlikely.
In arguably the deepest, most talented running back class in NFL history, Smith might be in the best situation to instantly produce. Unlike greatly extolled rookies Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall and Ray Rice, he's one of two youngsters (Chicago's Matt Forte the other) not involved in a timeshare. Staving off "Taco" Tatum Bell in camp, the Central Florida product is expected to tote the lion's share of carries in Detroit's reconfigured conservative offense.
With offensive boy genius Mike Martz stroking J.T. O'Sullivan in San Francisco, Rod Marinelli has installed a classic smash-mouth philosophy, which features a Denver-like zone-blocking scheme. Instead of attacking opponents aerially, Marinelli wants to pound opponents into submission. Per the Detroit News:
"What I want is punishment. I want to punish the defense. And I want to take their legs out of them (defenders) so they can't rush. Will we run for 2,000 yards? I don't know. But I want to be physical. I want to make a physical statement with that (offensive) front, and we have to keep pushing the ball up inside."
However, it may take time for Smith to reach his statistical zenith. Jon Kitna has stressed the running game is unpolished and a work in progress. Seen in exhibition play, the offensive line is still adjusting to the complexities of their new assignments. It may be several weeks before the Lions ground game shows consistency in execution, similar to Green Bay last year.
Smith doesn't possess world-class speed, but he owns several attributes that can thrive in a zone-blocking system. He's an intelligent runner with excellent vision who follows blocks instinctively, evident in his 35-yard TD scamper versus Cleveland last weekend. More importantly, he's patient, a characteristic critical for success in a one-cut-and-go scheme.
Lions fans have already compared Smith to Barry Sanders, which is grossly unfair. Frankly, he isn't equipped with the remarkable zigzagging skills of the Sandman. You're simply not going to see dodging talents like this from the rookie on the physical or virtual gridiron:
Still owners who nabbed Smith in the early-middle rounds should feel confident about his fantasy future. Initially he may struggle, but once Detroit's trench hogs jell, expect numerous serviceable performances. His ceiling is eerily similar to Marshawn Lynch's a year ago.
Matched against an Atlanta defense Week 1 that ranked 26th against the run last year, he should be counted on as an RB2/FLEX play in deeper 12-team leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 245 carries, 1,005 rushing yards, 27 receptions, 197 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Photo via US Presswire
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