The Detroit Lions started the opening round of the 2023 NFL Draft with the No. 6 pick but traded with the Arizona Cardinals to acquire pick No. 12. And with that pick, the Lions selected Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs.
It’s uncommon for running backs to be picked this high, but Lions general manager Brad Holmes has previously said he isn’t concerned with that view of perceived value.
“I understand the narrative around that,” Holmes said. “But if you think a player is that good, and he’s out there producing for you, then I don’t think anyone is going to look back and say — and I don’t think anyone said in 2016 or ‘17 or ‘18, ‘Man, they picked Todd Gurley at 10.’ No. He was just a really good running back. He was one of the top prospects in the draft, so yeah, we didn’t really bat an eye.”
Let’s take a look at what Gibbs does on the football field, how he fits in with the current roster, and why Holmes was willing to gamble on him in the first round.
Speed. Speed for days. Gibbs ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and it translates to the field, especially when he gets in space. Lions running back coach Scottie Montgomery called him “the best space player in this draft class” at his press conference following the selection.
Gibbs’ contact balance, foot quickness, and burst are elite and he glides across the field, separating from defenders with ease. Here’s an example of those skills in the Duce Staley bag drill at the NFL Combine.
Jahmyr Gibbs is like a seasoned hula dancer. His lower body is pistoning off the ground while his upper body barely moves. Elite balance. pic.twitter.com/r4h0h8f5wt— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) March 6, 2023
At 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, Gibbs is a bit undersized but has a durable frame. He only has 486 career touches—so lots of treads left on his tires—with 222 coming as Alabama’s lead back. He led the Tide in rushing yards, receiving yards, and kick return yards, illustrating his durability.
Gibbs has skills that go beyond just being a runner. He possesses elite hands and is arguably the best pass-catching running back in this class. His ability to return kicks could give the Lions another dynamic option on special teams.
Can’t help but feel like I’m watching an Alvin Kamara clone in #Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs. The slippery ability in the open field, the glide as he runs, insane contact balance, added boost in the receiving game.— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) September 28, 2022
Love the ability to set up his own blocks, create lanes w/vision. pic.twitter.com/1CQUaz65zB
Gibbs is an immediate complement to David Montgomery, and the pair should man the Lions’ backfield for the next three seasons.
While a traditional thunder and lightning duo would project Montgomery to be the early down back with Gibbs the third down passing game option, both backs actually have a skill set that transcends those roles. Montgomery is a tremendous pass catcher and Gibbs has the range to take early down snaps. Overall, the duo gives the Lions a pair of special options at running back, and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has to be itching at the opportunity to get them touches.
D’Andre Swift appears to be the odd man out, as he has a lengthy injury history and is in the final year of his rookie contract. While it will be speculated that Swift will be on the trade block, it’s likely his trade value is low, and the Lions could easily keep him as a contributor on a cheap rookie deal.