Anticipation is running high this week for the debut of Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure, who has completed a two-game NFL suspension on top of a year-long recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
But what exactly is everyone so excited about? Leshoure played in two preseason games this summer but hasn't appeared in a game that counts since December 2010. Does anyone really know what the Lions have here, especially considering how serious his injury was last summer?
I don't think there is any big mystery here. The Lions' running game has underperformed for so long that Leshoure will be a hero if he simply does what any above-average running back does: Get some yards on his own.
I don't want to slight current starter Kevin Smith, who has provided a valuable service to the team since returning midway through 2011. He is a good receiver and will get most of the yards that are blocked for him.
But as the chart shows, Smith hasn't really done much beyond that this season. He has averaged one yard per carry after first contact, according to ESPN's Stats & Information, ranking him No. 43 among 46 qualified running backs. I've tried to include a cross-section of familiar names in the chart to give you a sense for what other running backs have achieved in this area.
Meanwhile, according to Pro Football Focus, Smith has forced one missed tackle this season. That figure ties him for No. 31 among 40 qualified runners.
If Leshoure is what the Lions thought he was after making him a second-round draft choice in 2011, he'll improve upon those numbers over time. He will not only gain the yardage the Lions' blocking scheme delivers him, but he'll also break some tackles and/or make defenders miss.
That doesn't mean he'll average 100 yards per game or 5.0 yards per carry. It just means that once he gets his legs underneath him, Leshoure will get his and then some. That alone would be an improvement for the Lions.