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Monday open thread: How many running backs should the Lions keep?

Is a fourth running back a possibility for the Lions?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason performances always lead to some tough roster choices to make, and the Detroit Lions have a puzzle at hand following their second preseason game.

Exiting the draft, it seemed like the running back group was set: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Kerryon Johnson, and Jermar Jefferson. Then Johnson got waived. Entering preseason, it seemed like Swift, Williams, and Jefferson had the position on lockdown, and rolling with three running backs—not including fullback Jason Cabinda—was a certainty. However, the position group once seen as set in stone is open season.

With Swift nursing an injury and Williams getting limited touches as an established veteran, it opened the door for the youngsters. Jefferson was expected to be the prime beneficiary, but the competition has been fierce. Against the Bills, Dedrick Mills and Craig Reynolds shined while Jefferson struggled. Jefferson was still the frontrunner for RB3, but an undrafted rookie and a player signed the day before were looking like threats.

After the Steelers game, it is hard to say who leads the pack. It was a bounce-back for Jefferson, but Saturday proved to be another excellent outing for Reynolds. Although Mills did not reproduce his solid debut stat-wise, safety-turned-running back Godwin Igwebuike put together a noteworthy performance, including a touchdown run. Suddenly, the running back competition went from Jefferson alone to a four player race.

However, the question I want to look at today isn’t about who will win that RB3 job, but whether or not there will be a RB4 job as well.

Keeping a fourth running back—once again, not including a fullback—isn’t too far fetched. In 2020, the Lions initially kept four: Swift, Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, and Bo Scarbrough. However, they ended the season with just three, as Ty Johnson and Scarbrough were let go, while Adrian Peterson was signed early on.

2019 was nearly the inverse. The Lions kept just three backs come September—the two Johnsons and C.J. Anderson. However, the season ended with five backs on the roster: the two Johnsons again, but Anderson was replaced with J.D. McKissic, Scarbrough, and Wes Hills. Five running backs isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Detroit in 2021, but it would certainly be a shock.

Today’s Question of the Day is:

How many running backs should the Lions keep?

My answer: I think the Lions should keep three running backs.

While Craig Reynolds has been incredible, it has also come very late into games. That period is usually reserved for players outside the bubble, and though Reynolds has thrust himself into the bubble discussion, I can’t mark him as an “in” without seeing him get earlier touches against more capable defenders. If he gets the opportunity in Game 3 and shines again, then we can truly talk about keeping him over Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Mills and Igwebuike have not performed well enough to supplant Jefferson yet. Had Jefferson struggled against the Steelers, I think Mills would have been neck-and-neck with Jefferson, but that did not happen. Both had good outings, and I think Jefferson keeps his lead.

I think that roster spot is better used elsewhere. In particular, there are extremely close battles on the defensive line and in the secondary, and I would rather keep an extra defender instead.

That being said, I think Mills and Reynolds should be strong candidates for the practice squad if they clear waivers. Given how banged up running backs can get over the course of a season, including the fact that Swift hasn’t been a shining example of health, either player could get promoted once the season rolls around.

Your turn.


How many running backs should the Lions keep?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    (2 votes)
  • 23%
    (145 votes)
  • 68%
    (421 votes)
  • 8%
    (50 votes)
618 votes total Vote Now

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