In hindsight, Jahvid Best and accountability

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
2:15
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Jahvid BestAndrew Weber/US PresswireQuickness helped make Jahvid Best an attractive prospect, one the Lions couldn't pass on in 2010.
Hindsight makes it easy to judge the Jahvid Best Era, right? A pair of concussions ended his tenure at Cal, after all, and now two more concussions are threatening his career with the Detroit Lions.

So is it that easy? Can we wrap up the Lions' decision to draft him in 2010, tie a bow around it and declare it an unmitigated mistake? Was it a simple matter of overlooking substantial risk in a desperate search for playmakers? Or is it unfair to apply what we know now to a 2 1/2-year-old decision?

I'm having a hard time mustering complete outrage at the original choice for two reasons. First, we don't have access to Best's medical records. We don't know what his pre-draft examinations told the Lions, so we can't evaluate whether his presumed clean bill of health was justified. Second, we don't know how much of his current status is wrapped in a concussion protocol that didn't exist in 2010. Both the Lions and Best have been silent on that question.

What I do think: The Lions couldn't have predicted this course of events, but they should be held accountable for risking a worst-case scenario that appears to be playing out.

Let's refresh the facts of Best's pre-draft status.

In November 2009, Best suffered concussions in his final two games for Cal. The first was reported as "slight," a classification that would never be used now, and he missed two days of practice before returning to the field.

That's when Best suffered the second concussion, on a frightening five-foot fall after a tackle attempt. He lost consciousness briefly on the field and was hospitalized. On January 2, nearly two months later, Best said: "I'm still not 100 percent right now. But I'm very optimistic about my ability to come back by the time the combine and pro day come around. I have no doubt in my mind I'll be able to perform."

Best did participate in pre-draft workouts, and the Lions were drawn to his quickness. They believed he was a perfect fit for their offense and, famously, coach Jim Schwartz joked that he was "aroused" by watching his video highlights on YouTube. The Lions traded their second-round pick, No. 34 overall, to the Minnesota Vikings to draft Best at No. 30. The teams swapped fourth-round picks in the exchange, and the Vikings also got the Lions' seventh-round pick (No. 214 overall).

During a Twitter discussion Tuesday morning, many of you are supporting the Lions' thought process in that 2010 context. @boomshaka9 called it "a calculated risk" and added: "He's dynamic when healthy, the gamble just didn't pay off." Wrote @cam_diesel: "If healthy, we have Warner-Faulk Rams 2.0 I'm good trying to get that." Added @Erik_Parsons: "In 2010 it was praised as a steal that they were going to get a dynamic playmaker to help the team. Hindsight is 20/20."

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe gamble by the Lions and coach Jim Schwartz to draft Jahvid Best hasn't worked out.
Those points are all reasonable. It's also fair, I think, to point out that even in 2010 there was ample medical evidence suggesting football players with concussion histories were more susceptible to future concussions. In 2003, in fact, a University of North Carolina researcher published a well-cited study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that concluded:
"Our results suggest that college football players with a history of concussion are likely to have future concussive injuries. We observed an increase in the likelihood of recurrent injury with each successive previous injury."

Again, I'm not going to hold the Lions completely at fault for not using the JAMA as their primary draft guide. Truth be told, it's not like many -- or any -- of us in the media were writing about Best's history with the foreboding tone we're using now. We weren't any quicker to the dance than anyone else.

We know at least one team took Best off its draft board. In September 2010, Vikings coach Brad Childress, said: "There's no question about his ability. He's got 'A' ability. We just had, in this day and age, concerns about his concussions and the fact that with a smaller-in-stature running back, how he could play through that."

It's instructive to recall Schwartz's response to that comment. Schwartz, like many people at the time, overlooked Best's first concussion and believed the long recovery from his second was simply for precautionary reasons. Schwartz also espoused a typical football view of the time: That Best was no more susceptible to future concussions than any other player.

Via the Star Tribune, Schwartz said:

"[Best] had one major concussion. I think a lot of people looked at that. And there's always concern anytime a player has an issue like that. But all our reports and everything else led us to believe that he had put that behind him and was no more susceptible than any other player.

"I think part of that was after he had his concussion, he didn't play in the bowl game. I think looking back on it, I think it was probably more [Cal] holding him out because they knew he was coming out [in the draft] and not wanting to get him hurt. I think a lot of teams held that against him, the fact that six weeks later he didn't play in a game.

"We were comfortable with where he was. Running backs take hits. It's a fact of life in the NFL. They deal with injuries and things like that all the time. We liked what Jahvid brought to the table and we thought he fit very well with what we wanted to do offensively."

In the end, I think we can say the Lions demonstrated a high tolerance for risk in drafting Jahvid Best. They were like young investors in a volatile stock market, willing to gamble huge loss in exchange for the possibility of a big hit. Was it a smart risk? In 2012, no way. In 2010? Given the Lions' situation at the time -- 2-30 in their previous two seasons -- I understand why it happened. In baseball terms, they took a home run swing to hasten their comeback from a big deficit. At the moment, they appear on the brink of striking out.

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