Jahvid Best, RB - California
Weight: 199 pounds
40 time: 4.35
A dynamic running back with Barry Sanders-like moves to make defenders miss, Jahvid Best enters the draft after having had a very productive career at Cal. He rushed for a total of 2,668 yards and 29 touchdowns on 364 carries (7.3-yards per carry) during his career with the Bears. As a whole, he totaled 4,045 all-purpose yards in his three years at Berkeley. Jahvid’s sophomore season, in which he rushed for 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns on 194 carries (8.1-ypc), is what landed him exposure at the national level and placed him in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy.
Best is an extremely explosive player who has the best speed of any running back in the draft (4.35 40 at the Combine was best among all backs). He possesses outstanding vision with great patience, as he does a fantastic job of waiting for his blocks to develop before exploding through the hole. His burst and quick-twitch suddenness is video-game like.
Jahvid’s quickness, agility, and elusiveness are all among the best in this year’s draft and his ability to stop and start on a dime before accelerating past the defenders and into the open field is phenomenal; he’s an electric running back who can take the ball the distance no matter where he is on the field and no matter how many defenders are around him.
Thanks to his great vision, Best’s cutback ability is among the best in the nation and he’s definitely capable of making something out of nothing when he gets stuck behind the line. He glides with a smooth running style in the open field while also being capable of darting in and out of traffic. One thing that I like is the way that he consistently switches the ball to his outside arm when he gets into the open field; Jahvid is a very instinctive running back. What I like about Best is that he has the toughness to consistently carry the ball between the tackles and he can also get outside quicker than anyone on the field; he has a distinct ability to get up to full speed very quickly.
Jahvid is also a very reliable receiver out of the backfield, having caught 62 passes for 533 yards and one touchdown in his three years with the Bears; I think that he’s as big of a threat as a receiver in open space as he is when he takes a handoff behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also a very talented returner, having returned 31 kicks for 819 yards (26.41-yards per return) during his career at Cal.
The biggest concern that I have with Best is his durability; he had a hip injury at the beginning of the 2008 season and he ended up missing one game and wearing a cast for a third of the season due to a dislocated elbow. He had surgery this past offseason on his right foot and on the elbow that he dislocated. The foot surgery was to relieve irritation of an extra bone on the right side of his foot, which was caused when Best bruised the foot midway through last season. The elbow surgery was to tighten a ligament that was injured when he dislocated the elbow last year. Also, Best missed the last four games of the 2009 season after he suffered a freak neck and back injury where he landed on his neck after diving into the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown run against Oregon State.
He showed at the Combine that he’s returned to full health, however it’s hard not to label him as being injury prone. One of the big reasons for this is because of his thin frame; to improve his durability, I’d like to see Jahvid add some strength and a few pounds to add a bit of bulk to his frame. Because of his small size, he also isn’t going to offer much as a blocker in the passing game, which is one area where he could stand to work on. I project that Best will be drafted in the late-first to early-second round.
Jahvid Best has the potential to develop into one of the top running backs in the NFL if he can stay healthy, which is a concern that many teams have. Playing in a committee early in his career before eventually taking over the full-time job may be one way to lower his chances of getting injured as well as extending his long-term durability. Best is a special player who has the potential to be great.
Notes: Jahvid was named first-team Pac-10 on special teams in 2007, first-team All-Pac 10 on offense in 2008, and second-team All-Pac 10 in 2009. A former top recruit coming out of high school, Jahvid was rated as the No. 11 player in the state of California, and the No. 9 running back and No. 94 overall player in the country by Rivals.com. Best rushed for 6,428 yards and 91 touchdowns during his high school career. As a prep, he was also a very successful runner in track.
You don’t throw around comparisons like Barry Sanders lightly, so it’s clear Best has, as the kids like to say, “mad skills.” He’s electric in the open field, which should provide extra opportunities for fantasy points via the return game and give him added value in distance scoring leagues.
But while Best is potentially a first-round pick and just as likely to go off the board in the first half-dozen selections of a dynasty league rookie draft, the durability concerns slap a big “buyer beware” tag on him. Start with the size, which in and of itself isn’t a deterrent but doesn’t leave Best much margin for error. Then factor in the injury history; freak or not, a neck injury on a guy you’re paying to be chased by larger guys looking to throw him to the ground cannot be taken lightly. When you note that Best had 20 or more carries just three times in his college career, you’re looking at a guy who’ll be best used in smaller doses than you’d like from your feature back. Best’s entire background suggests a Brian Westbrook-like career, and while there’s certainly a ton of upside there you may find yourself facing another five years or so of the “Westbrook Weekend”: study Friday’s injury report, a visit to the worship house of your choice for a quick prayer that he plays, then all of Sunday morning devoted to finding out if “questionable” means he’ll play this week.