ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Jahvid Best caught a screen pass and turned up the field, then paused ever so slightly. Instead of running into the back of one of his blockers, the Detroit rookie waited for a lane to open, and once he found one, he was gone for a 75-yard touchdown against Philadelphia last weekend.
With both his speed and his savvy, Best has brought some much-needed excitement to the Lions. Although Detroit is struggling again to win games, the new running back is making quite an impact. In his first two games as a pro, he's scored five touchdowns.
"I'm a fan," Detroit receiver Nate Burleson said. "I told him in the preseason that his goals should be mighty high, individually and as the starting running back of this team. He has the talent to be one of the best backs in the NFL this year."
Best is already putting up numbers that have him in pretty impressive company. He's the first rookie to score five touchdowns in his first two games since Billy Sims in 1980. In Detroit's 35-32 loss to the Eagles, he caught nine passes for 154 yards, the most yards receiving in a game by a first-year running back since Herschel Walker had 170 in 1986.
His 232 total yards from scrimmage against the Eagles put him fifth on the Lions' single-game list, just behind the likes of Sims and Barry Sanders.
"My expectations are high, so whatever they need me to do, I feel like I should go out there and perform," Best said. "If somebody gets me, it's my fault. I owe it to my O-line and the receivers. When they put me in a good position, I have to make a play."
Best has helped the Lions score points despite an injury to quarterback Matthew Stafford in Week 1. Detroit also lost Burleson early against the Eagles with a right ankle injury.
The last thing the Lions need are injury problems after winning just two games the last two seasons. Burleson said there's a chance he could play this weekend at Minnesota. Coach Jim Schwartz didn't give an update on Stafford's status Monday but said he might have more to say Wednesday.
With Burleson out and the Eagles focused on stopping wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Detroit went to Best early and often. He scored on a 14-yard run in the first quarter, and his 75-yard touchdown reception gave the Lions a 17-7 lead in the second.
"All I had to do was stutter a little bit just to set it up, but everybody had their man and I think I went untouched," Best said. "That shows you that there's blocking out there."
It also shows that Best is a poised runner with good field vision.
Perhaps his one weakness is short-yardage situations — the 5-foot-10, 199-pound Best was stopped on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. That small frame has also raised questions about his durability. He missed a few games last season at California after a fall knocked him out and sent him to the hospital with a concussion and sore back.
Best was injured when he hurdled an Oregon State defender at the end of a touchdown run. He vaulted into the air and then was bumped even higher by another defender before falling on his back and head from about 8 feet in the air.
Best's injury history gave NFC North rival Minnesota pause. The Vikings had the 30th pick in the draft but traded it to the Lions, and Detroit took Best.
"There's no question about his ability," Minnesota coach Brad Childress said. "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."
This weekend, the Vikings have a new concern: stopping Best.