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2023 Detroit Lions roster preview: Craig Reynolds enters camp as the clear RB3 favorite

Craig Reynolds has been called “Mr. Consistent,” and has the leg up on the Detroit Lions’ RB3 training camp competition .

NFL: OCT 23 Lions at Cowboys Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our Detroit Lions roster preview series has made it through the notable free agent additions. Now it’s time to look at the players who were re-signed this year. These players clearly proved enough in previous seasons to be given a chance to make an impact again in 2023.

We kick off this portion of the preview with running back Craig Reynolds. The Lions find themselves with an entirely reformed running back room, and while Reynolds remains fighting for the same spot (RB3), there are new challengers who could threaten his third year in Detroit.

Let’s take a closer look at what Reynolds has accomplished and his chances to retain the RB3 job.

Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, Chase Lucas, Obinna Eze, Greg Bell, Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes, Jermar Jefferson, Brock Wright, Jerry Jacobs, Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, David Montgomery, Graham Glasgow, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marvin Jones Jr., Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Christian Covington

Craig Reynolds

Expectations for 2022

Reynolds was one of the Lions’ top feel-good stories of 2021. Added in the middle of training camp, Reynolds earned the nickname “Netflix” from running backs coach Duce Staley, because, “(He was) on the couch watching Netflix, and all of a sudden he came in, got a couple yards and scored a touchdown.”

Reynolds was fantastic that preseason, but originally didn’t make the 53-man roster. However, after spending most of the year on the practice squad he got his opportunity late in the season and didn’t waste it. In his first two games, he rushed for 195 yards on 37 carries, including an elusive 100-yard rushing game against the Cardinals.

Going into 2022, he was in prime competition with Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, and Justin Jackson for the RB3 job and was largely considered the favorite considering his strong play in 2022.

Actual role in 2022

9 games (0 starts): 119 offensive snaps, 105 special teams snaps
Stats: 23 carries, 102 yards (4.4 YPC), 9 catches, 116 yards
PFF offense grade: 68.9
PFF run grade: 71.1
PFF pass offense grade: 69.5
PFF pass blocking grade: 44.5

Reynolds did, indeed, win the RB3 job. Initially, Jermar Jefferson made the roster, but was quickly put on the practice squad, and eventually replaced with Jackson—who signed a 53-man contract in Week 2.

In the meantime, Reynolds got some significant playing time early on. At first, he was mainly a special teamer, but when D’Andre Swift was dealing with an ankle injury, his offensive playing time was pushed to an average of 22 snaps in Weeks 3-9.

As a runner, he wasn’t quite as efficient as he was in 2022, but he still showed physicality and burst. His best play of the season—this 36-yard reception on a screen pass—perfectly shows Reynolds’ big-league acceleration with good vision and patience.

Unfortunately, Reynolds suffered a rib injury and would go on injured reserve. Though the Lions would remove him from the list in mid-December, by then he had lost his job to Jackson. Reynolds would be active for just one more game—when Jackson was inactive with a hip injury—but mostly served on special teams.

Outlook for 2023

Despite losing his job to Jackson at the end of the season, Reynolds was re-signed to the Lions, while Jackson remains a free agent. Interestingly, the Lions did not give Reynolds an exclusive rights free agent contract—which would have been a cheaper option—instead, signing him to a one-year, $1.1 million deal. By NFL standards, It’s a very minimal raise ($140,000) from the ERFA tender, but the gesture itself is noteworthy.

Reynolds will have to, again, hold off Jefferson and Greg Bell (who suffered a season-ending injury in training camp), plus the addition of undrafted rookie Mohamed Ibrahim.

Here’s what offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said about the upcoming running back battle.

“Jermar Jefferson has been here. You see him get better every year that he has been here. Craig Reynolds has been Mr. Consistent from really day one since he stepped in the building. And then we have some rookies in there that are still learning and finding their way, but show some flashes right now, some big-time talent.”

Reynolds is clearly liked by the coaching staff and has a balance to his game that makes him a decent No. 3 capable of being a serviceable replacement for both Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery. Therefore, he is entering training camp as the favorite to hold his job.

That said, he’s also the veteran amongst the depth. Reynolds is 27, while Jefferson is 23, Ibrahim is 24, and Bell is 25. Youth is the name of the game when it comes to running back, so if someone flashes in training camp and the preseason, Reynolds’ spot could be in jeopardy.

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