The Detroit Lions running back room may be among the strongest position groups on the team, both in terms of starters and depth. You’d think, given the roster needs across the rest of the team, that the Lions could punt on selecting a tailback in this year’s draft. There’s a good chance they do exactly that.
However, the NFL Draft is all about developing the future, and the Lions have a fair amount of uncertainty at the running back position beyond 2022. So let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ running back depth chart and the options they have to improve the room in this year’s draft class.
Under contract: D’Andre Swift (signed through 2023), Jamaal Williams (2022), Craig Reynolds (2022), Jermar Jefferson (2024), Godwin Igwebuike (2022)
Short term need: 0/10
Long-term need: 6/10
The Lions could roll into 2022 with these five running backs and feel pretty confident about the unit. Not only do Swift and Williams provide a nice one-two punch, but Reynolds, Jefferson and Igwebuike all showed promise to varying degrees. Even if Detroit dealt with injuries at the position—like they always seem to do—they should have a fair amount of confidence in their depth.
However, the scope beyond 2022 is far less certain. Swift, who has battled with injuries his entire career, is only signed on for one more season beyond this one, and it doesn’t seem like an extension is imminent. Williams’ contract is expiring after this season—as is Reynolds’ and Igwebuike’s deal. Only Jefferson is signed beyond 2023, and he is the least proven prospect amongst the group.
The NFL Draft is all about thinking a few years ahead, and with no clear running back room for the future, Detroit could certainly dip into this year’s draft class. That being said, running back is also a position that can contribute immediately, so it would be tough to envision a significant role for a draft pick in his rookie season.
With running back being a devalued position, there may only be a handful of rushers taken on the first two days of the draft. It likely doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Lions to dip into this pool, unless one unexpectedly falls to them later on Day 2.
Walker is a physical runner who never seemed to go down on first contact, despite only measuring in at 5-foot-9. In fact, he led the nation in missed tackles forced last season. But he also brings elite athleticism that will translate to the next level. His best trait may be his vision, which will be NFL-ready out of the box.
Hall has a slightly bigger build (5-foot-11) and has an even better athleticism score. He set all kinds of records at Iowa state and produced a ridiculous 41 rushing touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Finally there’s Spiller, who was actually selected by the Lions in Mel Kiper/Todd McShay’s duelling mock draft in the third round. What Spiller lacks in athleticism, he makes up with a physical nature and good vision. He could be a Jamaal Williams replacement down the line, but he would likely enter camp as RB3.
Mid/late-round options: Florida’s Dameon Pierce, Michigan’s Hassan Haskins, Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr., Arizona State’s Rachaad White
It’s a pretty deep draft class, and while the Lions don’t have a fourth-round pick, there are options that could potentially fall to pick 177 in Round 5.
Pierce may not last that long, but the Lions know him well after spending a week with him at the Senior Bowl. Short but stocky, Pierce proved to be a great red zone option for the Gators last year, rushing for 13 touchdowns despite not being a starter and only receiving 100 carries on the season. He’s go great balance and vision, but lacks breakaway speed. Lions may have fallen in love with his physicality, though, especially as a blocker.
Robinson, too, was on the Lions’ Senior Bowl roster. With a strong build, his physicality will also draw the adoration of Detroit’s coaching staff. With better-than-expected athletic scores, Robinson could carve out a nice role in the NFL as a potential third-round back with primary backup potential. Would be a nice long-term plan to replace Williams.
Haskins was part of Detroit’s local pro day and Michiganders are likely very familiar with the player. Another physical option for Detroit, Haskins found the end zone 20 times last season, breaking a long-standing record at Michigan. He needs to improve as a pass blocker, but I’m guessing Duce Staley would get that worked out in a jiffy.
Finally, White is far more athletic than the other options listed above. He only has one full season of solid production at the college level, but his shiftiness was on full display in 2021. He also provides more value as a receiver than anyone in this section, as he hauled in 43 passes for 456 yards. Though he doesn’t have breakaway speed at the next level, he is a playmaker.