I see Cal running back Jahvid Best as a complementary speed back in a two-back tandem with a power runner. Several teams have a need for such a back, and a handful just need any help they can get in the backfield.
Teams where Best would fit nicely with an established primary back:
Atlanta: Michael Turner has established himself as a fine NFL starter, but hasn’t ever really been expected to carry the load as the main man for a complete season. At 240-plus pounds, he’s a bruising runner who would set defenses up nicely for the lightning quick Best. And with Matt Ryan at QB, the Falcons could make use of Best’s solid pass catching skills to really keep defenses off balance. With Atlanta picking either 19th or 20th in the first round, Best would seem to be a great choice. However, the Falcons also need another wideout to free up Roddy White, as well as help on the O-line, while new blood is needed across the defense. As such, it’s hard to imagine the team taking Best in the first round.
Baltimore: If the Ravens part ways with Willis McGahee, Best would be an interesting addition to the running game. Having Ray Rice and Best in the game simultaneously would have defenders running every which way, and would create huge mismatches out of play action, on screen plays, and even running plays. Still, while Rice is a hard runner, he hasn’t been a weapon near the goal line. Adding Best would not help in that critical aspect of the offense, so this probably would not work out. Besides, Baltimore needs a legitimate No. 1 receiver to replace the aging Derrick Mason. That should be their top priority.
Buffalo: The simple fact that the Bills already have a former Cal running back in Marshawn Lynch is probably enough to guarantee that they will not select Best. But their high draft position might make it possible if Best lasts into the second round. Lynch and RB Fred Jackson are both strong runners, and neither has the burst, elusiveness and flat out speed that Best would bring. So it would be very exciting to see Best added to the mix. But the team would probably be better served taking a stud WR like Dez Bryant or an offensive tackle to fill the void left by Jason Peters’ free agent departure to Philadelphia before last season. And the defense remains mediocre at best. So while this would be an exciting combination to see, it’s not likely to happen.
Chicago: This definitely is not going to happen because the Bears don’t have the draft picks to get Best. But even if they did, the team has so many pressing needs (CB, DE, DT, WR) that they couldn’t afford the luxury of pairing Best with Matt Forte. But man would that be fun to see. Jay Cutler might even start checking down when deep coverage is heavy rather than throwing the ball up for grabs as he did in 2009. As a lifelong Bear fan who grew up watching Walter Payton for 13 seasons, I’d love to see the soft-spoken, hard-working Best wearing the navy and orange. And from articles I’ve read about Best’s uphill running regimen, which emulates Payton’s, it sounds like Best would appreciate the opportunity to follow in Sweetness’ footsteps. Different kind of runner to be sure, but similar heart and character. I wish the Bears could get Best, but they can’t.
Cincinnati: With the addition of Larry Johnson last season, the Bengals suddenly have a crowded backfield. But both Johnson and Cedric Benson are power runners. If I were in charge, one of the two would be traded to make room for Best. Indeed, the Cincinnati offense is close to being one of the really exciting ones in the league. Chad Johnson (after Darelle Revis shut him down twice in a row at the end of last season he should now be known as Johnson rather than Ochocinco since he said he’d change his name back if that happened) is still an elite receiver, but he won’t be for much longer. And the death of Chris Henry left a gaping hole opposite Johnson that the Bengals may choose to fill with the 21st overall pick. But Best would be a better option. He’d give them the lightning to the other RB’s thunder, and would be a legitimate receiving option for Carson Palmer, perhaps even pulling safeties up. Plus, after Bryant, the receiver class doesn’t really have anyone who looks like a sure-fire NFL starter. Since Cincinnati’s defense is already very good, the team can afford to focus on offense and take a shot on Best. It all hinges on what they do with Johnson and Benson between now and the draft.
Green Bay: Another spot that seems to make sense for Best is paired with Ryan Grant on the Packers’ roster. Green Bay picks 23rd, two spots behind Cincinnati, and already has excellent receivers, tight ends, and the best quarterback in the NFL, former Golden Bear Aaron Rodgers. The O-line was battered last season, but when Colledge and Clifton are both healthy, they do a fine job in pass protection. The possible monkey wrench in this scenario is the likely departure of Aaron Kampman in free agency. Kampman never fit into the 3-4 OLB role, and will probably be looking to sign his next big contract with a team that lets him cause havoc from his natural end spot. If so, the Pack may be looking to upgrade their linebacking or D-line corps.
Jacksonville: The Jags need help at several positions, most importantly QB, so they definitely won’t reach for Best with the 10th or 11th pick. And Best won’t be there by the time they pick again. It would be fun to watch Best working with the human bowling ball that is Maurice Jones-Drew. However, with the Jags’ glaring needs at QB and WR, not to mention every defensive position, Best again is a luxury the team cannot afford.
Pittsburgh: The only thing that makes me doubt the Steelers would take Best in the first round is their 18th overall slot. Best would be a fantastic complement to Rashard Mendenhall, and would be like a Heath Miller out of the backfield – a reliable outlet for Ben Roethlisberger when Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are well covered. Pittsburgh can afford to take defensive players in later rounds since that squad is already pretty solid all the way around. But still, 18th seems higher than Best will go since there are likely to be some real beasts remaining available at tackle and guard, areas of somewhat greater need in light of Roethlisberger’s injuries the past couple years.
St. Louis: Needless to say, the Rams are not going to make Best the top overall pick in the draft. But the first pick of the second round? Maybe. In Round 1, the Rams have got to take Ndamukong Suh to set up a ferocious D-line to terrorize the NFC West for the next decade (Suh plus Chris Long, Leonard Little and that other Cornhusker DT Adam Carricker who should be back from injury). That will make their secondary better, and keep them in every game. That leaves the second round pick to use on offense. And Best would be a thrilling complement to the crushing style of Stephen Jackson. The only problem is that St. Louis desperately needs both a QB and a WR – most of all a receiver. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not totally sold on any of the receivers this year besides Bryant, but two or three fine QBs will be there at the top of the second round, and the Rams might just go for the best receiver they can get (Jordan Shipley is an exciting prospect who should still be on the board, and if Arrelious Benn falls this far, he might be too tempting to pass up). But WRs are notoriously difficult to project to the NFL level. If the Rams don’t go QB in Round 2, Best would be an excellent choice.
Besides the teams where Best would be a good complementary back, several teams just need whatever help they can get at running back. Suddenly, that group includes San Diego – my personal choice for Best since it would keep him on the West Coast and put him in cool threads that he’d look really, really fast wearing. Other teams that just need a RB include Cleveland, Detroit, New England and Tampa Bay. Only the Chargers or Patriots have first round picks that seem to make any sense in taking Best (28th and 22nd respectively). If Cleveland, Detroit or Tampa were to get him, it would be in the second round. And all seem to make as much sense as any other selections these needy teams might make. If Best went to Cleveland, he could run behind former teammate Alex Mack. In Detroit, he could play with Zach Follett once more (and fill the role once played by the elusive Barry Sanders).
Of course, team needs and individual player fit aren’t the only things that will determine where Jahvid Best may end up. Some teams believe in always taking the best available athlete regardless of immediate need, so he could end up going somewhere you’d never expect. And considering Al Davis’ fixation on raw speed and habit of having too many potential starting running backs on the roster, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Best in the silver and black. In fact, while it makes almost no sense at all, it would be awesome to have the kid stay right here in the Bay.
If I were betting (and I’m definitely not since I’m way too cheap), I’d say Best ends up in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Cleveland or Detroit.