Detroit Lions: Kevin Smith

At one time, the Detroit Lions had the best running back in the history of the NFL. Now, the Lions have turned into one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league with a sometimes-accurate young quarterback and the best wide receiver in the game.

Yet in 2014, the Lions will spend a decent chunk of money -- the most the team has since 2010 -- on their running back corps.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Reggie Bush
AP Photo/Jose JuarezReggie Bush will account for seven percent of the Lions' cap space used on offense next season.
A salary-cap breakdown of the running backs Detroit has employed since the 2010 season shows increased attention paid to who lines up in the backfield, mostly due to the signing of Reggie Bush before the 2013 season.

It'll be like this at least for the next two seasons -- provided Bush and Joique Bell remain on the roster -- as the team has committed to both through the 2016 season. The Lions' cap number for running backs, as of now, will be at least $9 million until that year, when Bush, Bell and Theo Riddick are all unrestricted free agents.

Whether all three make it to the final year of their contracts is another matter, but compared to prior years, Detroit is starting to invest in its backfield. Here's the breakdown working backward from this coming season to 2010. One other interesting thing to look at is the salary progression of Bell, who has turned into a valuable piece for the Lions. (Non-2014 numbers are end-season cap numbers; numbers culled from ESPN Stats & Information.)

2014
Total numbers: $10,663,107 (cap value); 16.62 percent (offensive cap percentage); 7.74 percent (total cap percentage); $11,473,297 (cash value).

By players:

  • Reggie Bush $4.5 million (cap value); 7.02 percent (offensive cap); 3.27 percent (total cap).
  • Joique Bell $2.3 million (cap value); 3.59 percent (offensive cap); 1.67 percent (total cap).
  • Montell Owens $1.13 million (cap value); 1.76 percent (offensive cap); .82 percent (total cap).
  • Mikel Leshoure $1,085,357 (cap number); 1.69 percent (offensive cap); .79 percent (total cap).
  • Jed Collins $710,000 (cap value); 1.11 percent (offensive cap); .52 percent (total cap).
  • Theo Riddick $517,750 (cap value); .81 percent (offensive cap); .38 (total cap).
  • Steven Miller $420,000 (cap value); .65 percent (offensive cap); .31 percent (total cap).
2013
Total numbers: $4,962,709 (cap value); 8.38 percent (offensive cap); 4.74 (total cap); $7,913,898 (cash value).

By players:

  • Bush $2 million (cap value); 3.38 percent (offensive cap); 1.91 percent (total cap).
  • Owens $975,700 (cap value); 1.65 percent (offensive cap); .93 percent (total cap).
  • Leshoure $929,259 (cap value); 1.57 percent (offensive cap); .89 percent (total cap).
  • Bell $630,000 (cap value); 1.06 percent (offensive cap); .60 (total cap).
  • Riddick $427,750 (cap value); .72 percent (offensive cap); .41 percent (total cap).
2012
Total numbers: $4,550,837 (cap value); 7.30 percent (offensive cap); 3.77 percent (total cap); $3,143,441 (cash value).

By players:

  • Jahvid Best $1,745,805 (cap value); 2.80 percent (offensive cap); 1.45 percent (total cap).
  • Stefan Logan $837,305 (cap value); 1.34 percent (offensive cap); .69 percent (total cap).
  • Mikel Leshoure $730,749 (cap value); 1.17 percent (offensive cap); .61 percent (total cap).
  • Joique Bell $544,960 (cap value); .87 percent (offensive cap); .45 percent (total cap).
  • Shaun Chapas $82,058 (cap value); .13 percent (offensive cap); .07 percent (total cap).
2011
Total numbers: $6,733,718 (cap value); 10.64 percent (offensive cap); 5.76 percent (total cap); $9,131,406 (cash value).

By players:

  • Best $2,650,500 (cap value); 4.19 percent (offensive cap); 2.27 percent (total cap).
  • Maurice Morris $2.125 million (cap value); 3.36 percent (offensive cap); 1.82 percent (total cap).
  • Leshoure $624,396 (cap value); .99 percent (offensive cap); .53 percent (total cap).
  • Jerome Harrison $575,000 (cap value); .91 percent (offensive cap); .49 percent (total cap).
  • Keiland Williams $450,000 (cap value); .71 percent (offensive cap); .38 percent (total cap).
  • Kevin Smith $282,352 (cap value); .45 percent (offensive cap); .24 percent (total cap).
  • Bell $26,470 (cap value); .04 percent (offensive cap); .02 percent (total cap).
2010
Total numbers: $4,629,094 (cap value); 6.44 percent (offensive cap); 4.11 percent (total cap); $5,217,000 (cash value).

By players:

  • Morris $1.8 million (cap value); 2.47 percent (offensive cap); 1.58 percent (total cap).
  • Best $1.27 million (cap value); 1.74 percent (offensive cap); 1.11 percent (total cap).
  • Smith $686,631 (cap value); .94 percent (offensive cap); .60 percent (total cap).
  • Jerome Felton $515,368 (cap value); .71 percent (offensive cap); .45 percent (total cap).
  • Aaron Brown $420,095 (cap value); .58 percent (offensive cap); .37 percent (total cap).
Mel Kiper Jr. took a look at what the 2008 draft might have looked like had the teams had the knowledge about certain players that they now possess.

Hindsight always looks a lot better -- or is what gets coaches and general managers fired -- but in the Lions' case, they didn't do too poorly in the 2008 draft. The one caveat here is that Kiper went with best player available, not biggest need.

Even so, in Kiper's redraft, he still had Detroit taking an offensive lineman at No. 17, just as the team did in 2008. But instead of taking Gosder Cherilus, Kiper has Detroit taking tackle Duane Brown, who was taken at No. 26 by Houston in 2008.

Here's what Kiper wrote about Brown:

"When he was a freshman at Virginia Tech, the athletic Brown was a tight end, but he ended up at tackle and ultimately also in the first round. He's been very good in Houston, playing at an All Pro level in 2012 and making 89 starts through his first six seasons, all at left tackle. His athleticism has been particularly useful in Houston's zone-blocking scheme."

Here's where it gets interesting. Down at No. 26, where Houston selects, Kiper had the Texans taking ... Cherilus. So the Lions still took what Kiper believes in a first-rounder in 2014, just a little bit higher than they did at the time.

One other interesting tidbit that shows Detroit might have had a decent 2008 draft. Cliff Avril, who the Lions took at pick No. 92 in the third round, was taken at No. 20 by Tampa Bay in his redraft.

Of course, neither Cherilus nor Avril are with Detroit any longer.

To see Kiper's entire redraft, check it out here.

And if you're curious, here's Detroit's 2008 draft class:

Round 1 -- Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
Round 2 -- Jordon Dizon, LB, Colorado
Round 3 -- Kevin Smith, RB, Central Florida
Round 3 -- Andre Fluellen, DT, Florida State
Round 3 -- Cliff Avril, DE, Purdue
Round 5 -- Kenneth Moore, WR/PR, Wake Forest
Round 5 -- Jerome Felton, FB, Furman
Round 7 -- Landon Cohen, DT, Ohio
Round 7 -- Caleb Campbell, LB, Army

As far as how those players panned out:

Cherilus has played in 91 games since he was drafted by Detroit, the first five seasons with the Lions and then this season with the Colts.

Dizon is out of the NFL. He played two seasons with the Lions and had 57 tackles and one sack. He injured his knee in 2010, was placed on injured reserve and was released in 2011.

Smith played five seasons with Detroit with 598 carries for 2,346 yards and 22 touchdowns. He did not play in the NFL this season.

Fluellen has bounced in and out of the league, including spending most of this season with Detroit. He has played in 69 games, making 55 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Avril left Detroit after last season in free agency, signing with Seattle. He's played in 88 games, making 185 tackles, 47.5 sacks and has forced 21 fumbles. He became expendable when the Lions drafted Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor in 2013 and felt Willie Young was ready for the next step.

Moore ended up on Detroit's practice squad his rookie year before being signed by Carolina midway through the 2008 season. Moore then played with Carolina, Indianapolis and was briefly with Pittsburgh. The Charlotte Observer caught up with him in July, 2013, for this pretty strong piece.

Felton just finished up his second season with the Vikings. He played three years with the Lions, one split between the Colts and Panthers and then the past two in Minnesota. He has 42 carries for 136 yards and 43 catches for 352 yards in his career.

Cohen has been with five NFL teams, playing his first 20 games with Detroit before playing with New England, Jacksonville, New England again, Dallas and Chicago. He spent this season split between the Cowboys and Bears.

Campbell first had to serve in the Army and was eventually signed by the Lions in 2010, where he made three tackles. He then was on the practice squads for a couple of other teams, but is now out of football. He does, though, have this website.

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