The landscape for a running back in the NFL has changed dramatically in the past few years. Ask any fantasy football owner and the decision of a top running back now also involves potential short yardage specialists and goal line backs. In 2006, the four NFC starting backs were Ahman Green (GB), Chester Taylor (MIN), Kevin Jones (DET) and Thomas Jones (CHI). Now, a mere 20 months since each player last saw meaningful playing time, all four men are in different points in their careers, well from the positions which found them the most acclaim.
Of all men listed above, only Kevin Jones finds himself on one of the other divisional teams looking for the starting position. Drafted out of Virginia Tech, he wore the #34 at Ford Field, a hope that most fans would quickly forget of the James Stewart days in Detroit. His career in Honolulu blue and silver seemed to be the same old story over an injury-marred four seasons. 3,000-plus yards and 24 touchdowns over this time amounted to the equivalent of receiving a birthday card without a check from a close family member. Kevin Jones is now a Bear, where he finds himself a fortunate benefactor of Cedric Benson’s troubles.
The next #34 in Detroit Lions history was recently highlighted as the top play this past weekend on SportsCenter for an incredible run against the Browns in preseason game no. 3. Kevin Smith is hoping that, like Daunte Culpepper before him, he hopes to prove that the Univ. of Central Florida or UCF is a viable breeding ground of NFL-caliber prospects. While the college competitive scenery in Florida has extended to schools like USF and Florida Atlantic, UCF can boast they have had two players in the past 10 years receive Heisman trophy first place votes. Smith and the legs that ran his incredible 2,567 yards last season are now prepared to haul many hopes of the remaining Lions faithful. The exact role of Smith remains undetermined, but it won’t take much to be a better #34 than the two men before him.