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A decade ago last December, Barry Sanders performed his last trick in Detroit. Known for his mystifying cutbacks and spellbinding spin moves, the legendary master of illusion shockingly disappeared into thin air. Though still in peak physical condition and performing at an All-Pro level at age 30, the great Houdini decided to retire his cape and wand. The Lions’ culture of losing was too much to bear.

Since Sanders’ departure, several average, generally ineffective rushers have come and gone, failing to captivate silver-clad supporters and Tecmo Bowl enthusiasts’ attention. James Stewart and Kevin Jones(notes) each amassed noteworthy seasons in 2000 and 2004 respectively, but neither was able to establish consistency. Kevin Smith(notes), who coincidentally flirted with Sanders’ collegiate rushing record while at Central Florida, showed potential during his first two campaigns. Unfortunately, injuries, a general lack of pizzaz and Detroit’s record-setting futility severely hindered him – a classic case of wrong place, wrong time.

Enter Jahvid Best(notes).

The first-round pick from Cal without a doubt is the organization’s most electric rusher since Sanders. Intelligent, versatile and blazing fast – he ran the fastest 40-yard dash among RBs at the NFL combine (4.35) – Best possesses sensational skills. Over his final two seasons in Berkeley, he averaged an incredible 7.6 yards per touch. He may be the primary reason why the Lions finally crawl out from the winless depths of the NFC North.

Jim Schwartz most certainly agrees.

After drafting Best 30th overall last April, the candid coach provided arguably the finest quote about a recent draftee ever. From Yahoo!’s own Michael Silver:

Best was the only other player in the draft Detroit’s brass regarded as an elite runner, and I knew Schwartz wanted him badly. In January, he’d confided to me that he coveted the dynamic breakaway threat to a degree that some might find unhealthy.

“Some people watch adult videos on their computer,” Schwartz had told me. “I go to YouTube and watch Jahvid Best highlight clips. That’s what gets me going.”

For the fantasy masses, Best’s talents and situation are unquestionably arousing. His ankle-breaking moves, between-the-tackles fearlessness and playbook acuity have him firmly entrenched as the Lions starter. With an emerging passing attack spearheaded by Matthew Stafford(notes) and Calvin Johnson(notes) and an improving offensive line, the rookie should yield a bounty of riches in almost every format.

Granted it’s only two preseason games, but Best has definitely looked the part, averaging 6.1 yards per touch. As Schwartz noted after Detroit’s last exhibition effort, the rookie impressively “hasn’t blinked.” The quick study has adjusted rapidly to the pro game.

Critics will argue his injury-plagued past is reason enough to circumvent the youngster in drafts. However, keep in mind Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers(notes) entered the league with similar concerns. Both have proven durable. Additional contentions over Best’s unsavory Reggie Bush-labeled role, Detroit’s below average offensive line, deeply dug scoreboard holes and second-toughest RB schedule will also be voiced.

Let the naysayers talk.

Yes, Best will be used in a variety of roles. Against Denver he saw action as a slot receiver, flanker and Wildcat quarterback. Schwartz has designed plays for the explosive runner to operate in space. But unlike his New Orleans comparison, he will rack at least 18-22 touches per contest, refreshing to see in an age dominated by platoons. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan isn’t a fan of timeshares.

Based on workload alone, he will greatly exceed his current 42.2 ADP (RB19), especially in PPR formats. Drafting him ahead of Beanie Wells(notes) and Knowshon Moreno(notes) is a savvy move. This time next year, owners will be contemplating Best in the late first round. After all, he’s only an “a” short of being a BeAst.

With Best toting the load, magical feelings may soon return to Detroit.

Fearless Forecast (15 games): 228 carries, 1,048 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 394 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns


Image courtesy of US Presswire

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