Kerryon Johnson has been on fire as a rookie and is easily one of the most exciting players to come to Detroit in what seems like ages. As electric as he has been, we haven’t really put into context just how amazing the start to his Detroit Lions career is. To rectify that, I took a look at every running back that has played for the Lions in the years following Barry Sanders’ retirement.
If you were excited before, it’s time to tighten that belt to keep your pants firmly on, and if you weren’t excited for Kerryon Johnson before then I am so sorry that you decided to be a fan of a team other than the Lions and are only here to troll Lions fans in the comments.
Lions media often talks about any running back that shows signs of promise as “the best RB since Barry...” As tired as that explanation has gotten over the past two decades, what do you do when the “best RB since Barry” stuff has legs to it?
The first, and least meaningful, statistic of note is that Kerryon Johnson is the youngest RB to take meaningful snaps for the Lions since Barry Sanders was drafted in 1989, having only recently turned 21. His youth is promising for the longevity of his career more than it is immediate returns, so for that we’re going to look at efficiency and volume.
Efficiency is where it gets fun. Kerryon Johnson has ran for 5.0 or more YPC in four straight games. That’s a pretty crazy stat showcasing just how efficient he has been running the football, but it got me thinking. Who else has done that since Barry Sanders. The answer? Nobody. No Lions running back has done that since Barry Sanders last did so in 1997. That’s bonkers all by itself, but do you want to know what else is amazing? That was a career-high for Sanders. He never ran for more than 5.0 YPC in five straight games. If Johnson is able to do so in the Lions next game, he will have accomplished something that Barry Sanders never did.
In his first five games, Johnson has posted the most rushing yardage of any rookie RB for the Lions since Barry with 286. Sanders, of course, posted 354 as a rookie in 1989. Barry was playing in a different era, and wasn’t sharing a backfield, and—oh yeah—he was Barry Sanders.
But Johnson isn’t just outgaining rookies, he also has the fifth-most rushing yards of any Lions RB in their first five games since Barry Sanders. Ahead of him was Reggie Bush with 376, Barry, James Stewart with 350 and... no, that can’t be right... Mikel Leshoure with 305. Huh.
A couple more stats from Kerryon via the Lions:
“Logged 40-plus rushing yards in his fourth-straight game, becoming the first Lion to do so since Joique Bell in Weeks 10-17 of the 2014 season.
Through five games, Johnson has produced 354 yards from scrimmage, the most by a Lions rookie since Jahvid Best produced 487 yards in his first five games in 2010.”
Jumping back to his efficiency, Johnson is one of only 10 Lions running backs, including Barry Sanders, who have run for 5.0 or more yards per carry in at least four games a season since 1998. The most over that span is, of course, Barry Sanders with nine, but second most was Shawn Bryson with only six. It’s at this point that I remind you that Kerryon Johnson has 11 more games to play this season. If he rushes for 5.0 YPC two more times this season, he will be tied for second most of any running back in the past two decades. It’s also at this point that I mention that he has rushed for 5.38 YPC or more four times in a row, I lowered it to 5.0 YPC for this study to make it more rounded. If we use that (admittedly arbitrary) number, Johnson has hit that mark more than any player since Barry Sanders except Shawn Bryson. However, Bryson rushed for just 181 yards in the six games he rushed for over 5.38 YPC in 2004.
As much as we complain about Kerryon Johnson not getting enough carries, he is hitting some pretty unprecedented numbers as a rookie. The level of efficiency with which he’s running is something (as I’ve been showing) we haven’t really seen in a player wearing a Lions uniform. It’s new, and it’s awesome. This is the type of stuff I’m going to be tracking all year, because: numbers. So don’t worry about it and just sit back and enjoy a running back who can actually run for positive yards on a consistent basis!