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Lions Select Mikel LeShoure RB From Illinois 57th Overall

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CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 20: of the Northwestern Wildcats of the Illinois Fighting Illini during a game played at Wrigley Field on November 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. Illinois defeated Northwestern 48-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – NOVEMBER 20: of the Northwestern Wildcats of the Illinois Fighting Illini during a game played at Wrigley Field on November 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. Illinois defeated Northwestern 48-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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The Lions have traded up in the second round to get RB Michael LeShoure from Illinois. The Lions gave up their 3rd and 4th round pick from this year to get LeShoure.

Leshoure enrolled at the University of Illinois — a minutes-long commute from his home near Champaign Centennial High School — in January 2008 without taking a visit to any other university, and attended his first class just weeks after his record-breaking high school career ended.Eager to get on the field knowing he was clearly in a jumbled group of youngsters vying to back up Rashard Mendenhall (23rd overall pick, Steelers, 2008), Leshoure was 35 carries into his freshman season when he suffered a broken jaw courtesy of a punch from teammate Jeff Cumberland.”I’ve matured a lot,” Leshoure said at the combine, a notion supported by Illinois’ coaching staff and Ron Zook.When he finally ascended to a starting role, Leshoure broke the school single-season rushing record with 1,697 yards and 20 total touchdowns as a junior all-Big Ten running back in 2010. He was the workhorse for a 7-6 Illinois team that won its first bowl game since 1999, rushing for 187 yards and three touchdowns as the Texas Bowl MVP in December.But Leshoure was just as eager to get to the NFL, where he’ll follow in Mendenhall’s and Pierre Thomas’ footsteps but also fulfill a dream.”I believe I have accomplished everything I can at the college level and want to go after my dream: playing in the NFL,” Leshoure said.

It wasn’t anything near certain that Leshoure would become “the guy” for the Illini until fall camp last year. He’s worked hard to, in his own words, “keep growing” since he was born in prison and spent all but four years of his life without his father, who also spent time in prison.

“It was just me and my mother,” he said. “I’m an only child, so it was just me and her. I learned a lot from that. I learned from an early age that I have to be the man of the house and take care of my mother and myself and it taught me a lot of responsibility and it made me the man I am today.”

Leshoure doesn’t have Mendenhall’s straight-line speed but has some burst to and through the line of scrimmage and can get the corner on outside runs. His forte is breaking tackles and using his low center of gravity to roll through defenders.

NFLDraftScout.com ranks Leshoure as a close second to Alabama’s Mark Ingram at the position, but some teams could be concerned about Ingram’s mileage and the condition of his knee. Sources recently suggested to NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang that Ingram, widely considered a top 20 overall prospect, could drift to the bottom of the first round or into the second.

If so, Leshoure could be there to carry the flag for the position.

“I definitely think I can be the No. 1 back taken,” said Leshoure. “That’s my goal. Everyone has their own opinion. You hear a lot of different stuff and see a lot of different things on T.V. But with my versatility and the things I can bring to the table, it will show a lot of scouts and GMs that I can be their guy.”

Even if he’s not the first back off the board, Leshoure could impact the game as a runner and receiver as the back he models himself after, Steven Jackson of the Rams, has since being drafted 24th overall in 2004. Jackson had better timed speed (4.45 in 2004) and is almost two inches taller, but their style of play is similar.

“He’s a big guy but he’s very versatile,” Leshoure said. “He shows good hands and he shows toughness and he plays through injuries, and I feel like I can do all of those things and hopefully he’ll have a career like he has so far.”

Analysis
Inside running: Powerful back, gets behind his pads when running inside. Runs with lean, and has a small strike zone for which opponents to get a square hit. Good vision to cut away from traffic, very smooth in his cuts. Keeps legs moving after initial contact. Can jump over piles near the line. If the line provides a big hole, he has an elite burst to hit second level at full speed. Excellent ball security, keeps it high and tight. Must avoid stopping to run outside when defenders penetrate, instead taking the couple of yards behind his line. Usually uses his fullback when in the I-formation, but must trust him in short yardage situations. Sells fake handoffs.Outside running: Thick upper- and lower-body build but he has the vision and quick feet to bounce outside as if he were a smaller back. Exceptional burst makes him capable of turning the corner to break off chunks of yardage. Has patience and vision to take a pitch and find a cutback lane and explode through it. Keeps his pad level low outside, which combined with a low center of gravity and strong legs, make him tough to tackle. Not afraid to push a pile or carry a defender a few yards after initial contact. Does not go out of bounds right away, willing to lower a shoulder to get a couple of extra yards.Breaking tackles: Very strong runner who is difficult for one defender to bring down. Effective stiff-arm, especially against oncoming defensive backs. Runs over would-be tacklers in the open field due to his strength and forward lean. Can sidestep in the backfield, though he’s best as a north-south runner. Lacks great elusiveness in short areas, but can juke a lesser defender in the open if he has some space.Blocking: Willing blocker who plays with better attitude than technique. Thick and strong, should be effective in blitz pick-up with some coaching, making him a three-down back. Provides a pop when giving linemen help inside.Receiving: Bigger than a typical college receiving back, but is reliable enough to be lined up outside to create positive matchups. Runs inside and outside routes fairly well, but needs to make hard cuts consistently instead of rounding off. Can make a quick cut to avoid a defender or run over a cornerback. Catches the ball with his body on non-swing passes, but has some ability to adjust to wide passes.Intangibles: Suspended for September 2009 matchup against Illinois State for violating team rules. Suffered broken jaw in 2008, losing 17 pounds, reportedly during a fight with teammate Jeff Cumberland. Looks to have matured, however, changing eating habits and putting in weight room work to be lighter and stronger for the 2010 season.

Compares to: Ryan Mathews, Chargers — Mathews had a stellar junior season but didn’t stand out in San Diego, battling ankle problems until late in the season. Leshoure has the same combination of open-field burst and power, with a chance to be an impact rookie.

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