With the myriad of issues the Detroit Lions have had running the ball, there’s plenty of areas to point the blame. You can look at Jim Caldwell, a head coach who has historically never fielded a strong running game. Jim Bob Cooter has had his own struggles designing and calling run plays since taking over as offensive coordinator. Taylor Decker’s injury hasn’t helped, especially during the mercifully short-lived Greg Robinson era. Line cohesion has been another issue, with the team fielding at least seven different starting units for various reasons.
Despite all this, Ameer Abdullah and the Lions stable of running backs aren’t blameless and the Lions practically ignored the running back position in both of Bob Quinn’s drafts so far. That should change in 2018, so here are a bunch of players the Lions could look at to upgrade the position.
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The crown jewel of this draft class in terms of pure athletic ability and game-changing running back play, Barkley has been considered worthy of the first overall pick. It’s unlikely the Lions have a shot at him, but strange things always happen on draft day.
Derrius Guice, Louisiana State
No player has been mocked to the Detroit Lions more than Derrius Guice. Considered by many to be the best pure runner in the draft, there are some concerns about his athletic ability, but he can put that to bed at the combine. Guice was lauded much more during Leonard Fournette’s injury plagued 2016 season, but he entered the season in a 1B conversation with Barkley before Barkley widened the gap.
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Power backs in Alabama’s system are always tough to project, but it is injuries and not talent that will dictate where Scarbrough goes in this draft. He has fought through a myriad of issues dating back to high school. Scarbrough is a talented back and I expect him to get drafted, but it will be the combine medicals that truly determine his value.
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Once considered the best back in the nation, Chubb suffered a devastating injury in October of 2015. Though he rebounded with a strong statistical season in 2016, it wasn’t until 2017 that he really looked back to form. His prolific Georgia career has seen three 1,000 yard seasons, with his injury-shortened 2015 being the only season he didn’t hit it, and he still had nearly 750 yards in only six games.
Bryce Love, Stanford
Rushing for 7.8 YPC in 2015 and 7.1 in 2016 is quite a feat. Managing to best both of those numbers in 2017 and hitting nearly 2,000 yards (with time to best it and only 27 yards shy) is just insane. Love is expected to measure out athletically and it will only be his size and some small injury concerns that give teams pause in the draft.
Ronald Jones, Southern California
A consistently productive back in a translatable pro system, Ronald Jones has finally started to get his due as one of the top backs in this draft class. Prototypical NFL size and athleticism has helped his production increase in each season from 2015 to present.
Damien Harris, Alabama
With Bo Scarbrough’s injuries paving the way, Damien Harris made the most of his opportunities in Alabama’s backfield and has rushed for over 8.0 YPC this season after netting 7.1 last year. As such, Scarbrough has dropped out of the top rounds as the season progressed and Damien Harris has jumped up boards, even landing in the first round for many.
Royce Freeman, Oregon
As a big back (nearly 240 pounds), there are concerns about both conditioning and athletic ability for Royce Freeman. Production has never been a worry, though, as he’s rushed for more than 1300 yards and 15 TDs in three of his four seasons for Oregon, with his worst season clocking in at ‘only’ 945 yards and 9 TDs.
Mike Weber, Ohio State
There was some preseason hype for Mike Weber, but it’s mostly tailed off since. He’s still managed a strong 10 touchdowns on the ground and looks okay, but not great athletically. He won’t hear his name called early in the draft, but he’s someone worth looking at if the Lions wait to address the position.
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Akrum Wadley is undersized, but looks like a very smooth and shifty athlete on tape. If Cooter and Caldwell remain in 2018, it’s more likely than not they target a fast and shifty back than a power back. That puts someone like Akrum Wadley on the table. He had a much more impressive 2016 than 2017 and I’m doubtful he goes very early in the draft, so this is another guy to look at if they go elsewhere early.
Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Running behind a sure-fire early pick in Quenton Nelson and another likely one in Mike McGlinchey sure makes it easier going. He looks good athletically, but it’s his balance and patience that make him a decent prospect. Running behind such excellent blockers in college may make it tougher sledding on a team like the Lions, but it could also mean he knows to take advantage of the holes when they open up.
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Ballage has quite a few fans on Draft Twitter, but his 2017 season has largely underwhelmed. While he has good size and a fair amount of athleticism at that size, he ultimately shouldn’t be a target until late in the draft if the Lions haven’t addressed the position yet or if they already did, but are simply building better quality depth.
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
A compact bundle of muscle, Rashaad Penny topped the 2,000-yard mark for SDSU in 2017. Though he isn’t a burner by any stretch, Penny was also a very capable kick and punt returner, with eight total return touchdowns over four seasons. Where he will go in the draft seems to be all over the place in terms of projections, and I think the combine will go a long way to telling us if he’s a Day 2 or Day 3 pick.
Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
One of the most versatile backs in this draft class, Johnson is known for his ability to break tackles and fight through contact. I was a bit surprised when I looked at his size and saw him listed at only 212 pounds, as he runs like someone much larger. With the shift in the NFL trending where the more versatility the better, I think a player like Kerryon Johnson will be valued a lot higher than he might have been in previous seasons. You’re not going to luck into a Theo Riddick situation where he’s available in the sixth round, and Johnson may go in Day 2.
Sony Michel, Georgia
Overshadowed, and rightly in most instances, by Nick Chubb, Sony Michel has still managed to carve out a strong case for draft selection in 2018. Michel looks like a very talented athlete and could go as high as Day 2 in the draft, though it’s more likely he’s Day 3. If the Lions draft a back early or forego that solution by picking up a free agent of note, they could certainly target someone like Sony Michel. It would likely mean the end of Ameer Abdullah receiving any large share of carries in Detroit, since he’d have the same basic role in the offense.
Who do you think the Lions will target in the 2018 NFL Draft?
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