Though free agency doesn’t officially start for another month, the Detroit Lions are apparently getting a head start on their running back search. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Lions worked out free agent Mike Gillislee on Thursday.
Gillislee is a free agent right now that can sign whenever he likes, as he was released from the Saints back in October.
New Orleans signed Gillislee to help weather the storm caused by Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension. However, Gillislee only had 43 yards on 16 carries with the team, and when Ingram returned, Gillislee was cut.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia is familiar with Gillislee, as the former Florida running back played nine games for the Patriots in 2017. There he started two games and rushed for 383 yards and five touchdowns on 104 carries (3.7 yards per carry).
While his past two seasons weren’t all that impressive, his two previous years with the Bills were highly successful. Combining his 2015 and 2016 seasons in Buffalo, Gillislee rushed for 844 yards and 11 touchdowns with an impressive 5.7 yards per carry while backing up LeSean McCoy.
The Lions need someone to help backup 2018 second-round pick Kerryon Johnson, who led the Lions with 641 rushing yards and 5.4 yards per carry.
Gillislee isn’t the bruising, big-bodied back that LeGarrette Blount was last year—Gillislee is just 5-foot-11, 210 pounds—but he runs decisively and is deceptively strong, making him a candidate for Detroit’s short-yardage back should the Lions choose to sign him.
But the ultimate question is whether Gillislee still has it in him. He spent the majority of the 2018 season unclaimed and out of football. Could that be the chip on the shoulder he needs to get back in the game or was that the beginning of the end?