For the past decade, the Detroit Lions have been defined by their aerial attack. Matthew Stafford was the one consistent cog in that machine, but an uber-talented group of receivers also came through Detroit. Soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Calvin Johnson, key free agent acquisitions Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay were not only great wideouts but some of the most prolific players in the franchise’s history during their respective tenures.
Now, as Detroit works through the transition and turnover of an offseason that included a front office overhaul, the departure of the franchise’s quarterback, and both Jones Jr. and Golladay leaving in free agency, the Lions identity is shifting, too.
Joining running back D’Andre Swift—the Lions' second pick in the 2020 NFL Draft—is former division rival Jamaal Williams, and recently drafted Jermar Jefferson, forming what looks to be shaping up as the first formidable rushing attack Detroit has had in some time.
This leads us to Today’s Question of the Day...
How will the Lions' backfield split look like in 2021?
When Detroit signed Williams this offseason, many expected the back to settle right in as the team’s No. 2 option behind Swift, but comments from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner and Chris Burke back in May suggested this traditional approach doesn’t apply to the Lions backfield:
Jamaal is what I’d call a classic “A” back. I like to break the backs down into A and B. My “A” backs are normally my bigger backs. They can run between the tackles, block probably a little better than a “B” back, they can also run the perimeter. I can leave those guys in there for all three downs.
My “B” back comes in, he’s a guy that sometimes I want to use in space more. He’s my speed-in-space guy. I feel like Jamaal would be an outstanding “A” back. I like his energy, I like his pad level and the way he runs the football between the tackles.
Viewing Wiliams as a true complement to Swift instead of some kind of back to spell the starter defintely changes the perception of how the carries will be split between the two. ESPN’s fantasy projections have Swift getting 188 carries to Jamaal Williams’ 134 carries. I think it could be even closer to a 50/50 split between the two backs, but these numbers seem realistic enough. I think Detroit will aim to run the ball a little more than these numbers suggest, but depending on how competitive the Lions are this year, that will definitely factor into how many times Detroit keeps the ball on the ground.