However, several teams were intrigued by his equally bruising backup, Jason Ford.
Ford was unable to parlay those high expectations into a big senior season. Off the field, he was arrested for a second time for driving with a suspended license last April, and he was ruled academically ineligible for the Illini's bowl game. On the field, Ford was one of 52 running backs named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List but wound up with a modest 600 rushing yards and a 3.9-yard average.
"We expected big things but it just didn't turn out the way we wanted it to," he told Packer Report. "Sometimes, I was trying to do too much instead of just playing my game."
While Detroit landed Leshoure early in the second round, Ford might not get drafted at all. Ford's pro day workout on March 6, however, certainly didn't hurt. The 5-foot-10, 251-pounder ran his 40 in 4.69 seconds and put up 21 reps on the 225-pound bench press. He settled for a 34-inch vertical leap after going 39 inches in training.
Ford has appeal to two sets of teams.
He could reprise his role at Illinois and be a big, powerful running back in the mold of his favorite player, the Jets' Shonn Greene. For his career, Ford ranks second in school history with 26 touchdowns and 16th with 1,962 rushing yards.
"I take a lot of pride in my accomplishments," Ford said. "Of course, I would have liked to have had a better season and gotten more rushing yards and hopefully gotten into the top five, but I take pride in scoring touchdowns and being able to be the short-yardage or goal-line running back who never gets stopped."
His second possible role in the NFL would be as a John Kuhn-style fullback. One scout told Packer Report that Ford could be a "terrific" West Coast-style fullback. He ranked fourth on the team with a career-high 19 receptions and finished with 46 grabs for his career.
"If they need a running back, I can step in and do that, and if they need a fullback who can make plays out of the backfield or make a lead block, I can do that," Ford said. "Even special teams — I played all the special teams throughout college."
Ford, who rushed for a St. Louis metro-area record 6,415 yards at Althoff High School in Belleville, Ill., credited his mother and father for being in position to be drafted. His father, Jason Sr., played college baseball and helped his son adapt to life as a college athlete.
Now, Ford's on the verge of making his dreams come true.
"Ever since I was little, I told everybody that I wanted to play in the NFL," he said. "I started playing when I was 5 and was always watching football. I was sitting around the other day and thinking: It's crazy. Like you said, in two-and-a-half weeks, I'll be on a team and trying to make a roster spot."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.