By Steve Muench
California junior RB Jahvid Best had a strong finish last season, rushing for 311 yards and four touchdowns in the season finale against Washington, and then getting 186 yards and two scores against Miami in the Emerald Bowl. But after dealing with various injuries during his career and undergoing foot and elbow surgery this spring there are still plenty of questions for Best to answer in 2009.
He has missed practice time this summer with a toe injury but is expected to play against Maryland in Week 1, and we are interested to see how Best performs given the questions about his health and the fact that Maryland held him to just 25 yards and no touchdowns last season.
The Terrapins return only four starters on defense, though, and they have a new defensive coordinator in Dan Brown, both of which could lead to communication breakdowns and play into Best's hands. He has very good vision, balance and speed, and is the kind of back who can absolutely kill defenses that get caught out of position. Maryland junior ILB Alex Wujiack is a tough interior defender, but he won't be a huge factor because Best excels at getting outside and does not run much between the tackles.
We also want to see whether Best can become a bigger factor in the passing game after catching 27 passes for 246 yards last season, especially considering his likely role as a third-down back at the next level. Our biggest concern, however, is whether the 195-pound Best can handle the punishment he would take at the NFL level. He dislocated his elbow last season and missed three games with a hip injury in 2007, and starting this season with a nagging toe ailment is not a good sign.
Best projects as a mid-round prospect at this point but could move up with a big junior season. Still, given the concerns about his ability to hold up physically, his lack of ideal size and his lack of power, we feel he would be better served to come back for his senior year.