What makes this situation so interesting to me is that Detroit has one of the most powerful offenses, a punishing defense, and they've got a track record of trying to include the RB position in spreading the fantasy wealth. The only problem is that nobody seems to be capable of taking the job and running with it.
Let's take a look at this backfield one RB at a time.
At only 23, Best has his whole career in front of him. But the knock on him coming out of college was his concussion history, and that came into play big time last season--as he only played in the first six games. So concussions are a concern. But that's not the only problem I have with Best from a fantasy perspective.
As a rookie, Best only managed 3.2 yards per rushing attempt in 2010. In 2011, his stats indicate he improved by more than a yard per carry (4.6), BUT those numbers are skewed by an 88-yard-TD run against Chicago. Take that one rushing attempt out, and Best averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Ouch!
Here's an interesting fact: Best averaged 3.6 yards per carry or worse in 4 of 6 games last season.
Here's another interesting fact: Best had more than 12 carries in only 2 of 6 games. And this was in a Mikel Leshoure-less situation (and before Kevin Smith was brought on board).
Still, he's a threat out of the backfield a la Darren Sproles. I just don't think he's EVER going to be a workhorse RB.
At 22, Leshoure also has his whole career in front of him. But he's returning from an achilles injury (which is not easy for a RB--some even claim it's impossible). Plus, there's the little matter of a 2-game suspension for drug-related problems to kick off the 2012 season. This guy may have lost his explosion on the field and be a ticking time bomb (for a season long suspension) off the field.
Anything else? Oh yeah, Leshoure still hasn't had one regular season NFL carry. That's kinda scary.
However, Leshoure does have the size and speed to make it work IF he ever gets to the field. Of course, the emphasis should be on the big IF.
Old man Smith is actually only 25 years old. That's still pretty young for a RB. But like the rest of the Detroit backfield, he has an injury history. During the offseason, Smith has reportedly put on some extra muscle weight to get him up 217 pounds, which is usually big enough to pound (and MAY help keep him healthy).
I'd say that Smith is definitely the third RB in this group, but with this group, he could quickly find himself as the only RB available. Last year, Smith scored 7 TDs (4 rushing, 3 receiving) in the final 7 games of the season. Not too shabby.
Which Detroit RB Is Best?
Without being obvious with my puns, I'm going to say that none of these RBs should be viewed as the best. I don't think Jahvid Best is ever going to be a true workhorse, though he may be able to carve out a Darren Sproles-like role. Mikel Leshoure probably has the most potential to be THE GUY, but he's got injury and drug concerns. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith is stuck behind these two guys and has an injury history himself.
Honestly, Joique Bell or Keiland Williams could end up as deep sleepers in this backfield. The Arian Fosters of the world have to start somewhere, right?
That said, Jahvid Best is the "safe bet" if he slips deep in your draft; Mikel Leshoure is the home run swing (especially in keeper leagues); and Kevin Smith might be the sneaky flier pick that helps you win your league at the end of the season--but shouldn't take up too much space on your bench if he doesn't see the field.
I wouldn't blame anyone if they avoided this backfield completely, but there is upside if you can get these guys on the cheap.