Many of the Detroit Lions’ moves this offseason seem to be centered around fixing the team’s long-dormant running game. They brought in Anthony Lynn as the offensive coordinator—a guy who oversaw top-five rushing attacks in both 2016 and 2018. They added a bonafide No. 2 back in Jamaal Williams. And they topped it all off by drafting offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the seventh-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Combine all of that with the potential Year 1-to-Year 2 jump from primary back D’Andre Swift, and 2021 has the potential to be a special year for the Lions’ running game. It has been far too long since the Lions developed a seriously efficient game on the ground, but it hasn’t been because of a lack of trying. The Lions have been building the offensive line for the better part of a decade now, and they’ve cycled through second-round running backs faster than an industrial washer.
But there’s a feeling that something may be different this year, and that feeling isn’t just being held by Lions fans. I looked at some fantasy projections for Swift in 2021, and they reveal some seriously impressive numbers for the 22-year-old back. Take a look:
Rushing: 1,003 yards, 9.1 TDs
Receiving: 52 catches, 424 yards, 2.1 TDs
Total: 1427 yards, 11 TDs
Easily the most optimistic of the bunch, FantastyData.com has Swift eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards, falling just short of Reggie Bush’s 1,006 yards in 2013—the last time a Lions running back has reached the 1,000-yard benchmark for a season. His combined 1,427 yards from scrimmage also falls short of Bush’s season (1,512), but it would be the third-most total yards from a Lions running back since Barry Sanders (James Stewart has 1,471 in the 2000 season). Also worth noting: Swift’s projected 11 touchdowns would be the most from a Lions running back since James Stewart in 2000.
Rushing: 201 carries, 872 yards (4.3 YPC), 6 TDs
Receiving: 67 catches, 513 yards, 2 TDs
Total: 1385 yards, 8 TDs
ESPN’s projection is slightly less optimistic on the rushing side, but slightly more optimistic for Swift as a receiver. Only four Lions running backs have eclipsed 500 yards receiving since 1984: Kevin Jones, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick.
Overall, Swift ranks 13th in ESPN’s fantasy projections, but that appears to be the cause of low touchdown numbers.
Rushing: 200 carries, 830 yards (4.2 YPC), 12 TDs
Receiving: 66 catches, 480 yards, 2 TDs
Total: 1310 yards, 14 TDs
The eye-popping number here are Swift’s 14 touchdowns. In Lions history, there have only been six seasons in which a Detroit running back has reached at least 14 touchdowns, and only Barry Sanders and Billy Sims are the ones to have done it. No Lions running back has finished with 12 or more rushing touchdowns since 1991.
The yardage numbers here are a little lower, but it’s worth pointing out that the Lions have only had four seasons in franchise history with a running back who ran for more than 800 yards and finished with more than 450 yards receiving.
Rushing: 902 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: 472 yards, 2 TDs
Total: 1372 yards, 11 TDs
If Swift accomplished these kind of numbers, it would undoubtedly go down as one of the most successful Lions running back seasons in the post-Barry era. It would be right up there with Reggie Bush’s 2013 season (1,512 yards, 7 TDs) and arguably better.
Of course, we’ve gotten hyped about a new Lions running back with a fortified offensive line before. Let’s just hope this is the year it all finally comes together.