However, when you ask – Who will be the Lions most important player next season? The answer might be a bit tougher.
Big Baby and Bly would get a few mentions. Maybe Roy Williams. A (hopefully) healthy Charles Rogers and/or Boss Bailey would get some nods.
It is likely though that when the votes were tabulated, Joey Harrington (and for the Joey bashers – Jeff Garcia) would garner the biggest support as the Lions' most important player in 2005. The quarterback position, and who will start at that spot next season has gotten the Lions' share of attention this offseason; and rightfully so when you consider how bad the production at the position was last season.
However, I think that the most important player in the Detroit Lions' success or failure next season won't be any of the above mentioned players. Instead, the Lions best player, and the most important factor in their overall success in 2005 will not be the quarterback – but the ballcarrier that will line-up behind him on opening day.
That player is Kevin Jones.
How the Lions' coaching staff utilizes Jones, and how often they choose to do so, will ultimately determine how far the team will climb next fall.
Last season, Jones displayed abilities that few players ever acquire. For many long suffering Lions' fans, the memories of a Hall of Famer named Barry Sanders still remain fresh in their minds. Barry will forever be the running back that all future Lions will be judged against.
Now, before any of us get carried away, let's make it clear that Jones is no Barry Sanders. At the same time, Kevin Jones will never be mistaken for Greg Hill or Garry James either.
Kevin Jones is, however, a franchise back that can put a team on his back and lead them to great things. The best thing about that is that KJ relishes that kind of responsibility. He is a leader; a guy who wants that football and will speak up if he isn’t getting it.
It has been a long time since the Lions have had a running back with that kind of mentality in their lockeroom.
The top-three offensive goals for the Lions next season should involve Kevin Jones. If they can achieve the first two goals, the third one should take care of itself. If all three goals are reached, the most important goal – winning – will follow as well.
Here are those top three goals, and why they are so important.
Goal No. 1: KJ must touch the ball a minimum of 25 times per-game
All too often last season Jones was absent from the game plans. After the Lions' first eight games of last season, Jones had touched the ball an average of 10.8 times a game and that was with Jones missing one game (Atlanta) and parts of two others (Philly and Green Bay) due to injury and or coaching negligence. He did not get 20 touches a game until Week 9 versus Jacksonville (21 touches). He did not rush the ball 20+ times in a game until Week 13 versus Arizona (26 carries, 4 receptions).
If the Lions' offense is to truly become among the league's elite, Kevin Jones must become the proverbial straw that stirs Leo's drink. Kevin Jones has the talent to become Detroit's version of Edgerrin James, their personal Priest Holmes, their LaDainian Tomlinson, maybe even their Marshall Faulk.
Make no mistake – when it comes to all four of the above mentioned running backs – their respective teams offenses run through them first. When the game is on the line, when their teams are nursing a lead, or when their teams are coming from behind, those guys get the ball over and over again. When those players get the ball at crunch time, their teams win more often than not.
Get Kevin Jones the ball early, late, and often next season and the wins will follow.
Goal No. 2: KJ must have a minimum of 60 receptions next season
James, Holmes, Tomlinson, and Faulk (in his prime) are/were all tremendous factors as receivers in their team's respective offenses. Their coaches line them up in a variety of positions outside of the traditional backfield spot, including as a wideout and slot receiver. They put them in motion to isolate them on linebackers and safeties; and at time even use them as decoys to exploit a opponent's weakness in another area. In short, they get them out into the open field to make plays and make the opponent account for them on every snap.
Beginning next fall the Lions should get the ball to Jones via the pass a minimum of four times-per-game. Maybe four receptions a game doesn't seem like much, but over the course of 16 games, it does add up. Let's do the math:
4 rec-per-game x 16 games = 64 Receptions
60+ receptions for Kevin Jones in 2005 is a very reachable goal. Let's hope head coach Steve Mariucci and offensive coordinator Ted Tollner feel the same way.
Goal No. 3: KJ should gain a minimum of 1,800 combined-yards next season
Below are the stats for the seasons in which the above mentioned franchise backs reached the 1,800 combined-yardage plateau:
|1999||16||369 1553||4.2||13||62 586||9.5||4|
|2000||16||387 1709||4.4||13||63 594||9.4||5|
|2004||16||334 1548||4.6||9||51 483||9.5||
|2001||16||327 1555||4.8||8||62 614||9.9||2|
|2002||14||313 1615||5.2||21||70 672||9.6||3|
|2003||16||320 1420||4.4||27||74 690||9.3||0|
|2002||16||372 1683||4.5||14||79 489||6.2||1|
|2003||16||313 1645||5.3||13||100 725||7.3||4|
|2004||15||339 1335||3.9||17||53 441||8.3||1|
|1994||16||314 1282||4.1||11||52 522||10.0||1|
|1998||16||324 1319||4.1||6||86 908||10.6||4|
|1999stl||16||253 1381||5.5||7||87 1048||12.0||5|
|2000stl||14||253 1359||5.4||18||81 830||10.2||8|
|2001stl||14||260 1382||5.3||12||83 765||9.2||9|
By comparison, here are KJ's numbers from his rookie season.
|2004||15||241 1133||4.7||5||28 180||6.4||1|
There is little debate that those numbers will need to increase if the Lions are to improve on 2004's 6-10 record.
If Kevin Jones touches the ball 340-to-380 times next season, the Detroit Lions offense will truly be a force to be reckoned with. If he is made the number one option week-in-and-week-out, it will make the entire offense better. Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, Kevin Johnson and Marcus Pollard will be better receivers. Jeff Backus, Rick DeMulling, Dominic Raiola, Damien Woody and Kelly Butler will be better blockers. Most importantly, Joey Harrington will be a better quarterback.
Kevin Jones has the ability to become Detroit's Edgerrin James; the Lions’ Priest Holmes; Motown's LaDainian Tomlinson; maybe even the Honolulu Blue and Silver version of Marshall Faulk.
All Steve Mariucci and Ted Tollner have to do is give him the opportunity.
Questions or Comments on this story: Contact Doug Warren at LWarren12@juno.com