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Monday open thread: How should the Lions split the running back carries in 2022?

Will we see another even split between Swift and Williams, or will one of them earn the lion’s share of carries?

Minnesota Vikings vs Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A competent run game was often a missing piece of the Detroit Lions offense, but that changed in 2021. Thanks largely to D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, the run game was one of their few facets that clicks last season.

Swift and Williams had nearly the same number of carries in 2021, with Williams slightly ahead at 153 carries to Swift’s 151. This split was not too far from the projections entering the season, although the total is somewhat lower due to neither back playing a full slate of games. While Williams led the team in carries, it was Swift who had him beat in yardage (617 yards for Swift versus 601 yards for Williams). In total, the Lions finished 19th in total rushing yards with 1,886 yards on the year.

Given how the season started, those yardage numbers are fairly decent. A side effect of trailing in most games, the Lions had to abandon their run game towards the second half of games. Detroit had 231 first half carries versus 191 second half carries. For comparison, the Green Bay Packers—the team that finished 18th in total rushing yards—had 202 first half carries to 241 second half carries. Playing ahead means leaning on your run game, and the Lions were rarely afforded that opportunity.

Aside from Williams and Swift, the Lions got 55 carries from Craig Reynolds, 18 carries from Godwin Igwebuike, 17 carries from Jared Goff, and 15 carries from Jermar Jefferson, as well as a few carries from the likes of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, and Jason Cabinda. Factoring in injuries and gadget plays, there will always been a handful of scraps of carries to pick up. To the Lions’ benefit, players like St. Brown and Reynolds made the most of theirs.

With a much improved team on both sides of the ball, the Lions should hopefully be in more winning situations in 2022. What kind of carry distribution can we expect?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

How should the Lions split the running back carries?

My answer: I think the carry distribution will look something like this:

  • Williams: 180 carries
  • Swift: 160 carries
  • Igwebuike/Jefferson/Reynolds: 70 carries combined
  • Raymond/St. Brown: 15 carries combined
  • Cabinda/Goff/Other: 25 carries combined

In total, this puts the Lions at 450 carries, which is right around league average. I think the 2021 Lions wanted to run the ball more often, but trailing in games led to an offensive switch. With some more winnable games ahead of them in 2022, I expect the team to run the ball at an increased rate.

I am hoping that Swift and/or Williams can stay healthy this season, which would undoubtedly lead to more carries. While those two are locks for starting roles, there will be a significant position battle between Igwebuike, Jefferson, and Reynolds for a roster spot if the Lions opt not to keep five backs (plus Cabinda).

As for the carry distribution between Swift and Williams, I give Williams the edge because I think the Lions will lead in more games this season. Williams is a better fit for a late-game, grind-out-the-clock type of playstyle than Swift, who is better suited for open field plays.

Goff will be good for a scramble or two per game, although those might come as off-script plays more than anything. As for Raymond and St. Brown, the Lions experimented with some Deebo Samuel-esque plays last season to some success, so don’t be surprised to see it implemented once again in 2022.

How do you think the backfield should be split? Will Swift and Williams see another timeshare, or will either player take the mantle of lead back? Alternatively, will another player step up and play a key role?

Your turn.