Roto Arcade - Fantasy

Because lambasting the Noise for his occasionally accurate faulty predictions shouldn't be relegated to one comments section, his column "Bringin' the Noise" will be issued in segmented parts each week within Roto Arcade. Potshots geared toward the Noise's male-pattern baldness, ear-piercing volume and man-love for Pierre Thomas(notes) are strongly encouraged. 

Two years ago a twiggy, upright runner from Central Florida was in the midst of chasing an almost mythical specter, a legend whose backfield Houdini moves will never again be duplicated on artificial or pixilated turf. 

For 19 years, Barry Sanders' all-time single-season FCS rushing record (2,628 yards) had remained untouched, high on an unreachable pedestal. Though the mark remained intact, Kevin Smith(notes), who fell just 62 yards short of toppling one of college football's most revered achievements, opened the eyes of NFL scouts and executives with his stirring run at history. Sadly, because his attempt at greatness wasn't heavily publicized on a national level, his accomplishments were overshadowed by a historically football-rich school a short drive up the turnpike (Florida).

Flash forward to the present.

Smith, now in his second year with the Detroit Lions, is once again positioning for a run at the former Tecmo Bowl superstar. However this time, respectability, not numbers, is his motivation.

Lost in the Hello Kitties' winless futility last year, Smith played extraordinarily well. Though at times tentative running behind a disorganized offensive line, he averaged a commendable 4.1 yards per carry, netting 78.8 total yards per game and eight scores in 16 contests. More encouraging, he finished the year strong, totaling 291 rushing yards (97 ypg) and three scores over the final three games of the regular season. His accumulated 17.0 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues during that stretch ranked ninth at his position, one spot behind LaDainian Tomlinson(notes).

A tireless worker and boisterous talker, Smith, at 22-years-old, might be Detroit's true locker-room leader. Determined to quickly bury last year's public humiliation, he painfully surmounted hill after hill and laced up the boxing gloves Joe Louis-style during the offseason. Mentally and physically tougher entering '09, the rusher is hopeful the Lions, under Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan's guidance, will shed their loathsome label:

"Just think about it. We go out there 0-4. Do you know what it's going to be like in Detroit? We want to give ourselves confidence, as well as Detroit . We want to give Michigan confidence, too."

Based on Linehan's "mean playbook", Smith owners, who stole him on average around pick 32.85 (RB17), are also brimming with confidence.

According to several accounts, No. 34 will be called early and often by Linehan this season. It's possible come January Smith's elevated workload could resemble Matt Forte's.(notes) With a green quarterback behind center and a new run-emphasized system in place, he will be featured prominently via ground and air to move the chains and alleviate pressure.

In terms of fantasy impact, Smith might just be this season's Michael Turner(notes).

Eerily similar to Atlanta's situation heading into last year, he is surrounded by an energetic coaching staff, inexperienced but talented QB and a supposedly shoddy offensive line. The outspoken rusher believes the latter is the least of his worries:

"We're going to go out there and execute. We do a lot of different things than we did last year so it's going to be exciting. We've got a good line, they're meshing good, so we're going to do well. We're going to do some things. We've just got to keep on working."

If the Lions trench unit, which several analysts believe is incapable of creating scurrying lanes for a hamster, can meld rapidly, Smith certainly possesses the skill set to catapult into the elite RB class. When provided space, Smith's combination of arm-shedding power, excellent speed and blue collar grit are downright deadly (Example here).

Last season, the Burner stormed out of the gates against, ironically enough, Detroit rushing for 220 yards and two scores. This week, versus one of the Falcons' top divisional foes, New Orleans, the versatile Smith could also be a statistical wrecking ball.

Though defensive ends Will Smith(notes) and Charles Grant(notes) dodged suspension for Starcaps usage, the Saints' blitz-aggressive scheme plays perfectly into Smith's tender hands. When pressure is applied, he will be targeted often as a safety valve by Matthew Stafford(notes). Couple that with the abundant carries he'll likely receive early to manage the clock and keep New Orleans' high-powered offense off the field, and the popular third-round choice could be primed for a borderline top-10 opening week. Recall the Saints surrendered 4.4 yards per carry and 106.8 rushing yards per game to RBs at home a year ago.

At an identical age, Sanders totaled 1,784 yards and 16 touchdowns. Obviously, the ‘09 club, when compared to the ‘90 Lions, is analogous to a group of adorable box-frisky kittens - a strong statement considering Detroit went 6-10 that season - but if the O-line develops rapidly and Stafford is at least semi-competent, Smith may finally touch greatness.  

Week 1 Fearless Forecast: 18 carries, 78 rushing yards, 6 receptions, 44 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns


Image couresty of US Presswire

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