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Detroit Lions 2020 positional breakdown: Can the Lions trust their current set of running backs?

On paper the Lions have their top 3 RBs, but do they need some insurance?

NFL: DEC 29 Packers at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2019, the Detroit Lions shuffled through running backs at a pace almost as rapid as backup quarterback. The team’s No. 2 running back, C.J. Anderson, didn’t make it through the opening month of the season on the roster, and when Kerryon Johnson went down with another serious injury, the Lions went into fast-and-furious mode on the transaction wire.


That being said, their search for running back depth was fruitful with their addition of Bo Scarbrough.

Now the Lions enter 2020 with plenty of questions surrounding their running back crew. Is it sufficient? Can Bo Scarbrough be a change-of-pace back? What do we make of Ty Johnson’s strong finish? And, most importantly, can we trust Kerryon Johnson?

Let’s take a closer look at the position.

Running back

(Final year under contract in parentheses)

Under contract: Kerryon Johnson (2021), Ty Johnson (2022), Wes Hills (2020), Bo Scarbrough (2020), Tra Carson (2020)

Free agent: J.D. McKissic (RFA)

Just about everyone is still under contract after Tra Carson received a futures deal. The only question is what the Lions plan on doing with J.D. McKissic, who is a restricted free agent. McKissic managed to play in all 16 games this year, but he wasn’t a huge part of the offense. He did pull down 34 catches but for just 233 yards.

However, it does seem like Ty Johnson could carry some of that load going forward as the sixth-round rookie had 24 catches of his own and even provided some solid rushing attempts late in the season after a slow start.

Level of need: 5/10

The big question is with the top two backs: Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough. Johnson has now been on IR in back-to-back seasons, and even when healthy, he took a big step back in 2019, going from 5.4 yards per carry his rookie season to just 3.6 this past year. He did look more like himself after returning from his knee injury late in the season, but is that enough to trust him as the uncontested No. 1 back next year?

As for Bo Scarbrough, it remains to be seen if he can be the back that the Lions thought they were getting in LeGarrette Blount in 2018 and C.J. Anderson in 2019. The results were certainly promising, with Scarbrough averaging 4.2 yards per carry as the Lions’ workhorse back in four straight weeks, but we’re talking about a pretty small sample size here, and who knows how he’ll respond next year now that there’s tape out there.

Going into 2020 with Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough and Ty Johnson as the team’s top three backs is certainly doable on paper, and could even turn out to be a pretty good trio. However, that’s putting a lot of trust in an oft-injured back and two players coming off their NFL debuts in 2019. The Lions would be wise to add at least one veteran back they know they can trust or a Day 2 or 3 runner in the draft that can come in and provide some immediate competition and depth.


What should the Lions do at running back this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Draft a RB
    (494 votes)
  • 32%
    Pick up a RB in free agency
    (346 votes)
  • 21%
    (229 votes)
1069 votes total Vote Now

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.