In Friday’s dose of notes from the esteemed Andrew Kato, he dropped in a nugget from Pro Football Focus’s latest set of offseason rankings: the best running back units in the NFL. PFF’s Ben Linsey stepped up and ranked all 32 backfields in the NFL, and in those rankings, the Detroit Lions finished near the bottom of the league, clocking in at No. 25.
For the Detroit Lions, their running back room underwent quite an overhaul this offseason, so the ranking is predicated on quite a bit of projection.
“The best-case outcome for Detroit,” explains Linsey, “is that D’Andre Swift earns more of a bell-cow role in 2021 and excels in it.” Linsey also notes the up-and-down nature of Swift’s rookie campaign, but should the second-year back out of Georgia should earn some more consistent playing time this season without veteran Adrian Peterson siphoning carries.
In addition to hiring a new running backs coach in Duce Staley, the Lions plucked Jamaal Williams from division rival Green Bay in free agency and drafted Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft to round things out. On their way out, the aforementioned Peterson—the team’s leading rusher in 2020—and Kerryon Johnson.
All of this leads us to today’s Question of the Day...
Where do you rank the Detroit Lions’ unit of running backs?
Looking over Linsey’s list, I’m a bit confused by a few teams he has ranked ahead of the Lions. The Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24 are counting on a rookie in Najee Harris to lead their backfield with virtually no depth to speak of whatsoever. The Kansas City Chiefs at No. 22 and the Buffalo Bills at No. 21 are a pair of tandem backfields consisting of Clyde-Edwards Helaire and Jerick McKinnon, and Zack Moss and Devin Singletary respectively, and I don’t see them as definitively better than what the Lions have.
I’d place Detroit’s backfield somewhere in the 18-20 range heading into this season. Swift does have something to prove in being the team’s lead back, but Williams is as good as they come when you’re talking about complementary backs in the NFL who have the ability to play on all three downs.