The Detroit Lions came into 2020 with Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson leading their backfield. Then it was J.D. McKissic at the helm. Then Tre Carson. Then Bo Scarbrough for a bit. Then Wes Hills. Come full circle to Kerryon Johnson to close out the year and you can probably see what the problem was.
The Lions had a serious durability issue at running back in 2019, and they enter the offseason in 2020 with the same problems. With a solid crop of running backs in the draft, the team has options to fill their backfield going forward, and the 2020 NFL Combine is going to sift out the athletes from the try-hards. Here are the backs the Lions should be checking out at the end of the month’s events.
Note: All RAS links will be updated during and after the Combine with official and tentative metrics. This will continue throughout the draft season.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
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It’s easy to fall into a trap with Jonathan Taylor. He’s a bigger back playing for Wisconsin who hasn’t stopped running in a power scheme since shotgun was created. If you happen to watch one of his ‘weaker’ games, like I unfortunately did, you may inadvertently believe he lacks speed like many Wisconsin backs behind him, falling into that power back role. If you watch any two of his games, you will found out quickly that the dude can fly. I’m stoked to see how the dude does at the Combine, and he’s one of only two backs that have a legitimate shot to be selected in the first round of the 2020 draft.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
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Like Taylor, Dobbins is a guy who I expect to tear up the NFL Combine and contend for a first-round pick. Rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2019, this Ohio State back offers speed, explosiveness, and power without sacrificing much in terms of lateral agility. While I do not expect the Lions to pick a running back in the first few rounds of the draft, I do expect them to look out for players like Dobbins if they do go that route. Athletic talent and versatility in spades, Dobbins would step in immediately and improve the Lions backfield, should they decide to invest at a position they were using for plug and play in 2019.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
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I’ve mentioned before how Benjamin is a player that I really like despite not expecting him to measure all that well at the Combine. That doesn’t mean I won’t be paying close attention to him at the event, and I think the Lions should be as well.
Figuring out where Benjamin is going to be drafted is a tricky one. On the one hand, his lack of premier athletic traits on tape is likely going to hinder his projection. Only one RB who measured below average overall for athleticism has been drafted in the first round since 1987 and only a handful have been drafted in the second and third rounds. Still, I think if the Lions are looking at a running back in the third round, Benjamin is still there, and he doesn’t completely bomb the Combine, he’s an option.
AJ Dillon, Boston College
ESPN High School RecruitingScouting ReportsWhat's On Draft | The Draft Network | NFL Mocks | Matt Waldman | This player is a prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft. All metrics that have been recorded are unofficial if the metric is highlighted in yellow. Once the NFL Draft has concluded, player scores will be finalized and...
Dillon is huge. A six-foot tall, 250 pound behemoth of a running back, Dillon has the thick lower body you expect from an interior rusher in a power scheme along with the well-built upper body of an angry linebacker. Like Jonathan Taylor, you’d be forgiven for making the assumption that he’s slow and unathletic not only due to his size but also due to his usage in Boston College’s offense. Seriously, though, you’re not going to use a bulldozer to race, you’re going to use it to run over things. With the recent success of Derrick Henry, the Lions should certainly be looking for a big man at RB who can run over everyone.
LeVante Bellamy, Western Michigan
ESPN High School Recruiting Scouting ReportWhat's On Draft | With the First Pick | This player is a prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft. All metrics that have been recorded are unofficial if the metric is highlighted in yellow. Once the NFL Draft has concluded, player scores will be finalized and the prospect card will...
With the selection of Ty Johnson, it was clear that Darrell Bevell wanted to get a little faster in the backfield. Though he finished with a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, that was boosted significantly by a 40-yard run in the final game of the season, before which he was averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. One big run in 16 games is a disappointing effort from someone expected to be a home-run threat, but the investment wasn’t that great. LeVante Bellamy offers an opportunity for the team to simply try again.
Like Johnson, Bellamy is a speedster, but unlike Johnson, he was used extensively by his team in the run and passing game as a primary weapon. Bellamy is expected to run in the 4.3s, but unlike most of the players who claim they’re going to run that (which is all of them at this time of year), Bellamy might actually clear it.
Anthony McFarland, Maryland | RAS
Quicker-than-fast runner who saw his production drop sharply in 2019 despite a similar workload to the previous year.
Cam Akers, Florida State | RAS
Versatile runner with a fairly dynamic skillset, I ended up far less impressed with Akers’ tape than I expected to based on how highly touted his play has been.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Louisiana State | RAS
Smaller build and better agility than speed might make his projection difficult, as will his lack of pass blocking ability,
D’Andre Swift, Georgia | RAS
A similar type of athlete and player to fellow Georgia Bulldog Sony Michel, his projection works in much the same way. Like Michel, I think he gets drafted higher than he should.
Darius Anderson, Texas Christian | RAS
Very Dwayne Washington-like vision at times, but I think he’ll find a niche on a team with a more mobile quarterback to take some of the pressure off him.
Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State | RAS
Ability as a runner, receiver, and returner. All boxes checked. If he can clear the Combine without athletic ability questions, he’ll only have the small school box left open.
DeeJay Dallas, Miami | RAS
Somewhere between scat back and power back, I’m not sure where to project Dallas at the pro level. If he were more of a receiver, a utility role could be on the table.
J.J. Taylor, Arizona | RAS
Tiny runner who takes on more contact than he should at that size, Taylor offers some serious home-run ability when he finds open field.
James Robinson, Illinois State | RAS
Crazy productive runner against lesser competition, I didn’t see any standout athletic trait despite some impressive elusiveness against arm tackles.
JaMycal Hasty, Baylor | RAS
Speed looks good on tape, but he might not measure as well. Understands angles, though, so uses the speed he has quite well.
Javon Leake, Maryland | RAS
Excellent return skills might see him drafted late, but needs development as a runner.
Joshua Kelley, UCLA | RAS
Runs like a power back but isn’t built like one.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt | RAS
I’ve mentioned Vaughn before as a guy I like but don’t think will measure well and not much of that has changed.
Lamical Perine, Florida | RAS
Another guy who runs like he’s bigger than he is, I’d be surprised to see big numbers from Perine at the Combine.
Mike Warren, Cincinnati | RAS
Not very fast but built thickly enough to hold up running into NFL linebackers. I think he has a shot to make a roster and earn carries this year.
Patrick Taylor, Memphis | RAS
I think Taylor measures out better than his size would suggest, and he could be a candidate for a nice bump after the Combine.
Raymond Calais, Louisiana | RAS
Diminutive back with questionable traits and production.
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina | RAS
Dowdle has a lot of positive traits, but with availability being the biggest question mark he’s going to have a lot to prove in the coming weeks.
Salvon Ahmed, Washington | RAS
Ahmed has a shot to run in the 4.3s at the Combine, and like LeVante Bellamy, he’s already done so coming out of high school.
Scottie Phillips, Mississippi | RAS
Positive projection as a utility player, he’s tough to imagine in any large offensive role.
Sewo Olonilua, Texas Christian | RAS
Played in 49 collegiate games as a running back, this 232-pound power back has the type of durability you can only hope for in a pro.
Tony Jones, Notre Dame | RAS
Jones runs like a bulldozer, but, unfortunately, he also turns like one. Big power back you probably shouldn’t ask to run any plays on the edge.
Zack Moss, Utah | RAS
While not a superb athlete on tape, Moss exhibits many of the “do your job” mentalities that Matt Patricia and co. covet.