Over the course of the past two months, we’ve gone through a lot of scenarios for the Detroit Lions’ first pick in the NFL Draft. The team has a ton of holes on its roster, so it becomes hard to predict what Detroit will do with 20 other teams selecting ahead of them.
One option we haven’t discussed much is a running back. Both Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette, the consensus top two backs in the draft, are expected to be gone by the time the Lions pick in the first round. Because of that, and because this is considered to be a fairly deep draft at the running back position, we haven’t seen many backs mocked to the Lions for their first pick. In fact, in our last mock draft roundup, just 12 of the 264 mocks we tracked had the Lions selecting a running back not named Cook or Fournette.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press is now one of those mocks. In his first mock draft of the season (warning: slideshow), Birkett has the Lions taking Christian McCaffrey with the 21st overall pick. Here is his reasoning:
I don’t know how the Lions feel about McCaffrey, but I do know they want to fix their running game and it’s not going to happen in free agency. McCaffrey had 590 carries the last two seasons, he’s a fantastic athlete and a matchup problem for defenses.
Birkett is right when he says the Lions want to fix their running game; general manager Bob Quinn said as much in January. “Where did we finish in running? I think it was what, 30th in the league in rushing? That’s not good enough,“ Quinn said.
However, he also said something that was very telling in the same press conference and has me doubting that they’ll target a running back in the first round [emphasis added]:
“This isn’t you pick one running back at the top of the draft and your running game is fixed, that’s not how this league works. I think you can go back to the Cowboys, and everyone writes about their great offensive line and they have a great running back. Well, they also have a really good blocking tight end and they also have a pretty good fullback when he’s in there. I think it takes 11 guys on the offensive side of the ball to run the football.”
Quinn understands that running the ball is about much more than your No. 1 back there, and the Lions’ failures last year went well beyond who was running the ball. He mentions the Cowboys’ great blocking tight end- the Lions currently don’t have one. I think it’s more likely that they would target a guy like tight end O.J. Howard over any running back in the first round. (To be fair, Howard and David Njoku were already selected in Birkett’s mock.)
But even if the Lions were searching for a back in the first round, I don’t think McCaffrey is their guy. McCaffrey is a good all-around back, yet is a bit undersized, which is exactly what the Lions don’t need. While he’s a good three inches taller than Ameer Abdullah (6-foot-0 vs. 5-foot-9), McCaffrey actually weighs less (197 vs. 203 pounds). You have to wonder if McCaffrey has the power to break tackles in the NFL.
If the Lions are in the market for a top tier running back, it’s going to be the kind of back that is a bruiser and a good blocker. The fact that McCaffrey is also a threat in the passing game is nice, but the Lions already have one of those in Theo Riddick. McCaffrey is a nice combination of what the Lions already have, but that’s exactly the problem. He brings nothing new to the table. The Lions would be wise, in my opinion, to spend the pick elsewhere.