Sat, 06 Mar 2021

2020 position breakdown: Running backs

Detroit Lions
16 Jan 2021, 00:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The good: The Lions could have something pretty special in second-round pick D'Andre Swift, who rushed 114 times for 521 yards (4.6 average) with eight touchdowns and also notched 46 receptions for 357 yards (7.8) and two scores. Swift's 878 scrimmage yards were sixth best among rookie running backs. He was eased along early in the season because of a training camp injury, and he missed three games due to injury later in the year.

Swift was one of five rookies (Jonathan Taylor, Chase Claypool, Antonio Gibson and James Robinson) to record at least 10 touchdowns on the year. He's the eighth player in NFL history to accumulate at least 500 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 350 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns in his first 13 career games.

His running mate this year in Detroit's backfield, veteran Adrian Peterson, rushed for 604 yards (3.9 average) with seven touchdowns, proving age is just a number at 35 years old. Peterson brought a power element to Detroit's run game that's been lacking the past few years. Detroit rushed for 17 touchdowns this season, which ranked in the top half of the league.

Detroit's 26 negative rushes (not including kneel downs) were the fifth fewest in the league.

The bad: Detroit finished 30th in average rushing yards per game (93.7). They were one of six teams to average less than 100 rushing yards per contest, and their 4.08 average per rush ranked 26th. Detroit has to get more consistency from their run game with only 42.5 percent of their rushes this season gaining at least four-plus yards.

While Swift showed that the future certainly looks bright, one area where he has to improve is ball security. The rookie fumbled three times this season. Detroit running backs fumbled the ball five times total in 2020, with Kerryon Johnson and Jonathan Williams each having one as well.

Key stat: Detroit had 36 explosive rushes of 10-plus yards this season, which ranked 29th. Baltimore (80), Cleveland (74) and Minnesota (71) led the league in that department.

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Free agents: Peterson is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He said late in the year he'd be interested in re-signing with the Lions, as long as they don't put themselves in a complete re-build situation under the new general manager and head coach.

Fullback Jason Cabinda is an exclusive rights free agent, which means if Detroit wants him back in 2021, he will be back. Cabinda played pretty well in that role after switching over from linebacker.

Draft: It's not expected that Detroit will view the running back position as a high priority in the draft given they spent a second-round pick on Swift last year and have former second-round pick Johnson returning on the final year of his rookie contract as well.

If Peterson doesn't re-sign, I could see them looking for a complementary power option later in the draft. A few backs that fit that description would be: Master Teague III (Ohio State), Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State), Rhamondre Stevenson (Oklahoma) and Trey Sermon (Ohio State).

MVP: Swift had a terrific rookie season, and there's little doubt he would have gotten to 1,000 total scrimmage yards had he not missed those three games.

Swift has a terrific blend of speed, quickness and balance. He runs low with balance, and cuts effortlessly without losing speed. He's proven to be a very good receiver out of the backfield as well. The future certainly looks bright for Detroit's young running back.

Quotable: "Just taking my game to the next level," Swift said of what his focus will be this offseason. "I've got a season under my belt, so I kind of know what to expect, know what I need to do, know what extra stuff I need to do to get my body in the right condition and right shape to go out there each week and produce. I've got to produce every week."

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