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2021 training camp preview: Running back

On the roster: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Dedrick Mills, Michael Warren II, Jason Cabinda (fullback)

Key losses: Adrian Peterson, Kerryon Johnson

Table inside Article
Name Games Att. Yards Avg TDs
D'Andre Swift 13 114 521 4.6 8
Jamaal Williams^ 14 119 505 4.2 2
Jermar Jefferson* 6 133 858 6.5 7
Dedrick Mills* 6 84 396 4.7 3
Michael Warren II# 14 261 1,265 4.8 14
Jason Cabinda 16 1 0 0.0 0

*college stats ^with another team #2019 college stats

Best competition: Third running back role

Swift and Williams are the clear top two in Detroit. They are expected to split carries in Anthony Lynn's offense. Lynn said this offseason he's a believer in riding the back with the hot hand, so we could see the amount of carries fluctuate between Swift and Williams from week-to-week depending on performance early on in games. They're both expected to be heavily used in the passing game.

The real question will be who emerges as the third back who can be a change of pace and step into the mix if Swift or Williams gets dinged up.

The Lions drafted Jefferson in the seventh round. He started to come on strong at the end of the offseason training program, especially in the passing game. Jefferson will have to hold off Mills and Warren in camp. Mills was signed as an undrafted free agent, and Warren spent most of his first season in the NFL last year on the practice squads in Philadelphia, Carolina and Washington.

Training camp and the preseason will help determine the pecking order after Swift and Williams. The passing game is going to play a key part in this competition. Lynn likes versatility in his backs, and new running backs coach Duce Staley said his backs have to be able to protect the quarterback if they want to see the field.

Twentyman's take: Swift and Williams have a chance to be a real nice tandem in Detroit's backfield running behind an offensive line that's expected to be one of the better units in the league. We got glimpses as to just how dynamic Swift can be during his rookie season. He's got speed, quickness, and can cut on a dime. He also doesn't get enough credit for how tough he runs. A player doesn't run for eight touchdowns without showing some toughness around the goal line.

One area where Swift and Williams can really make a big impact is in the passing game. Swift caught over 45 passes as a rookie, and Williams notched over 30 receptions as the No. 2 back in Green Bay a year ago. Swift was particularly dynamic as a receiver this offseason, and said if given the opportunity, he could catch 75-plus balls this season.

When it's all said and done, the Williams signing could be one of GM Brad Holmes' better moves this offseason. He pairs nicely with Swift, and they have a chance to be a really nice duo.

By the numbers:

4.0: Career average yards per rush on 500 rushing attempts for Williams.

6th: Warren's 2,918 rushing yards rank sixth all-time at the University of Cincinnati.

10: Swift's 10 total touchdowns were the fourth most by a rookie (Jonathan Taylor 12, Antonio Gibson 11, Chase Claypool 11) in the NFL in 2020 and the fourth most by a rookie in Lions team history.

143: Average rushing yards per game for Jefferson at Oregon State last season, which ranked fourth in the FBS. Jefferson averaged 108 rushing yards per game over his college career

Quotable: "I would say his twitch and his quickness definitely shows up," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Swift. "It was a breath of fresh air to see it.

"Look, I said this from day one, we're excited to be able to work with him. We think he's got a lot of talent, and he's got so much room to grow. To have Jamaal (Williams) in there with him, I think will do wonders. But obviously, to be with Duce (Staley) – I think Duce is going to pull the best out of this kid. He's going to really grow, so we're excited about him."

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