On the roster: Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Ty Johnson, Mark Thompson, Nick Bawden (FB)
Key losses: LeGarrette Blount, Nick Bellore (FB)
*with Panthers & Rams ^college stats
(Mark Thompson and Nick Bawden did not record any statistics in 2018)
Best competition: Kerryon Johnson is clearly the No. 1 back in Detroit, but head coach Matt Patricia and new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell believe in a running back by committee approach. The competition to see how the pecking order falls in line behind Johnson will be a good one in training camp.
Zach Zenner was impressive the last month of last season after taking over the lead role after Johnson injured his knee Week 11 and missed the rest of the year. Zenner averaged 4.6 yards per carry the last month the season and rushed for a touchdown in three of Detroit’s final four games. He’s experienced and offers a lot on special teams as well.
C.J. Anderson had three 100-yard rushing performances for the Los Angeles Rams last season, including a 123-yard, two-touchdown game in the Rams’ 30-22 playoff win against Dallas. He has a 1,000-yard season (2017) among his career accomplishments and showed last season there’s still plenty left in the tank.
Theo Riddick has carved out a role over the last six years in Detroit as a third-down specialist and weapon in the passing game.
The wild card in the group is rookie Ty Johnson, who showed off difference-making speed in the spring. A good preseason for the late-round draft pick could make things interesting when it comes to how many backs the Lions keep on the initial 53-man roster.
View photos of the running backs competing for roster spots heading into training camp.
Twentyman’s take: Kerryon Johnson has the potential to be a breakout star in 2019. He possesses speed and power. We saw last season that he can be a weapon in the pass game as well. He’s got true three-down back potential.
Anderson, Zenner and Riddick provide depth and varying skillsets to the backfield. It’s a versatile group with a lot of experience.
It will be interesting to see if Ty Johnson and that blazing speed of his can make a difference in camp and the preseason. He’ll get a shot to return kickoffs, and that could be his ticket onto the roster.
Will the Lions have room for a fullback on the roster like Bawden? They used tight ends and guard Joe Dahl in the role in the spring.
Bevell wants to be more balanced on offense. His offenses have finished in the top 10 in rushing percentage eight times in his 12 years as an OC. That should give the running backs plenty of opportunities to shine in 2019.
By the numbers:
5.4: Average yards per rush attempt for Kerryon Johnson as a rookie, which ranked second in the NFL last season.
75: Kerryon Johnson recorded 16 carries for 101 yards (6.3 avg.) against the Patriots in Week 3 to become the first Lions running back in 75 games to produce an individual 100-yard rushing effort.
248: Detroit rushed for a season-best 248 yards at Miami Week 7. The 248 yards were the most since the team posted 249 rushing yards vs. Indianapolis on Nov. 23, 1997.
9.9: Only 9.9 percent of all Detroit’s rushes last season went for 10 yards or more. That percentage ranked 29th in the NFL. Only Indianapolis, New Orleans and Arizona had a lower percentage.
Quotable: “My goal, I said it at the combine, I said it in all those interviews is I want to finish seasons,” Kerryon Johnson said after last season. “Didn’t get to do it (last) year and that’s my plan for (this) year, year after that is I want to be able to finish seasons and be reliable and play my best football for a long time and that’s what I have to do.”