It looked, for a moment at least, like a luxury 2020 NFL draft pick. The Detroit Lions had glaring needs when the club took Georgia running back D'Andre Swift in the second round of the draft Friday night.
Detroit desperately needed a defensive tackle and an edge rusher. Could have used a guard, too. Yet the value general manager Bob Quinn saw was too high.
They were going to potentially need a running back anyway, and taking Swift should shake up the Lions’ whole running back rotation.
“There’s going to be competition in that running back room,” Quinn said after the draft. “We feel good about the depth of that room. The good thing about the running backs right now, we have them of all shapes and sizes.
“We have some bigger guys, we have some middle-sized guys."
Detroit now has lots of options -- and some real questions -- about its running back group in 2020 and beyond. Bo Scarbrough is the team’s big back at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds. The Johnsons -- Kerryon and Ty -- are built similarly (Kerryon is 5-foot-11, 211 pounds; Ty is 5-10, 210 pounds). Wes Hills, a current roster long shot, is 6-foot, 218.
The 5-8, 212-pound Swift is shorter but has power. Jason Huntley, at 5-9, 193 pounds, is the size outlier. His speed, return skill and pass-catching ability make him a roster-and-role possibility.
How will this get divvied up? Swift is a roster lock as a second-round pick. Kerryon Johnson likely has a spot as long as he’s healthy. Scarbrough should have a role as a bigger back, although it might be different than it would have been a week ago. Ty Johnson, Huntley, Hills and maybe an undrafted free agent or two could fight for potential roster spots.
They all, though, could prove necessary. This will be by-committee to handle the workload of a full season, the question being how large.
“We’re going to use multiple running backs,” Quinn said. “We like Kerryon Johnson. We like Ty Johnson. We like Bo. So we’re going to put D'Andre in there.
“D'Andre’s not going to carry the ball 35 times a game, we know that. We’re going to use our backs. We’re going to use all of them. That’s why we drafted D’Andre, he’s going to be part of that package.”
Coach Matt Patricia is unlikely to give a rookie running back too much too soon. Kerryon Johnson is a good example of that. He was expected to be an immediate lead back. In three of his first four games, he had fewer than 10 carries and had 15 or more carries in just three of the nine games he played as a rookie -- 16 for 101 yards against New England, 19 for 158 yards against Miami and 15 for 87 yards (and a season-ending injury) against Carolina. Is it possible he would have received more work had he not been hurt against the Panthers? Sure. But it’s something to keep in mind when trying to predict Swift’s early usage.
Swift is likely to have less prep time, too, due to the unknowns surrounding the coronavirus. That won’t alter some areas, but it’ll be something to watch.
“We do a lot of studies on full seasons and where guys are at the end of seasons, especially running backs and especially that position indirectly you’ll find guys at the beginning of the season were at a high, productive level and by the time they get to the end of the season, the wear and tear of that position is pretty extreme,” Patricia said in 2018. “You get to the end of the year and those guys aren’t maybe out there as much so you kind of take a look at it from a big-picture standpoint.”
The run game becomes more important in cold weather later in the season, so Patricia wants his players ascending as the season goes instead of breaking down. Add a position with a high injury rate and the pick could seem more judicious.
As Swift is brought along, Patricia does have other backs to rely on.
Don’t be surprised if Kerryon Johnson’s workload is similar to his rookie season instead of the start of Year 2, when he had back-to-back 20-plus carry weeks against Philadelphia and Kansas City. The Swift addition and Scarbrough’s emergence should keep Kerryon Johnson from too many high-carry games, potentially lessening his injury chances.
It’s been Detroit’s mantra throughout -- if you have more backs, use them. After double-digit carries in his first four games last season, the Lions gave Scarbrough eight in Week 16 against Denver and nine in Week 17 against Green Bay. Those two games coincided with Kerryon Johnson’s return -- where the two split work as Johnson had 10 and 11 carries.
If everyone is healthy, Ty Johnson’s snaps should decrease and all of the backs would give up something to Swift, who could end up between 250 and 300 snaps -- maybe more -- between his rushing and pass-catching ability. Kerryon Johnson could be close behind and Scarbrough could depend on what’s happening in individual games.
Between Huntley and Ty Johnson, there could be role-specific work – or potentially a bigger share of the carries if injuries hit or one of them impresses and can force his way into it.
One thing is clear. Even with another running back in the room, there will be opportunity. It’s just a matter of which backs the Lions use, and how they use them.