The good: Veteran running back Jamaal Williams had a career year in his sixth season. His 1,066 rushing yards were the 11th most in the NFL this season and his 17 rushing touchdowns led the NFL by 4 and were a new franchise record. Williams finished the year with six multi-touchdown games, the most in the NFL and the most in team history.
Not only did the Lions get a career-high production year from Williams, but he's become a team leader and one of the most respected veterans in the locker room. He became a vocal leader and epitomized the tough and consistent style of play head coach Dan Campbell is trying to build as a foundation for his football team.
As a team, the Lions racked up 2,179 rushing yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Detroit was second in the NFL converting on goal-to-go situations 85.4 percent of the time. The top four running backs for Detroit in 2022 – Williams, D’Andre Swift, Justin Jackson and Craig Reynolds – all averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry of the year.
View photos of the Detroit Lions running backs from the 2022 NFL season.
The bad: Swift finished the season averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 542 yards and also caught 48 passes for another 389 yards with eight total touchdowns. Not bad, but considerably short of his preseason goal of rushing for 1,000 yards and also recording 1,000 receiving yards. Injuries slowed Swift down for a second straight season. He injured his ankle in the Week 1 loss to Philadelphia and his shoulder Week 3 in Minnesota, which cost him three games.
It wasn't until the last couple weeks of the season that Swift was really able to move past the nagging injuries. Swift missed three games last year and three games as a rookie due to injury. That's nine games over the last three seasons. There's no mistaking his talent but this will be a big contract year for him to show he can stay healthy and take his game to the next level.
Key stat: The Lions were second behind only Chicago with five run plays of 50-plus yards on the year. The Bears notched six.
No brainer here. When there's any list involving the running back position and your name comes before Barry Sanders, that's a heck of an accomplishment. Williams played in all 17 games this season, which is saying something given his tough-nosed between the tackles running style. He led the team in rushes (262), yards (1,066) and touchdowns (17).
Most improved: Jackson
The Lions knew Jackson could be an efficient third back behind Williams and Swift. He was coming off a 2021 season with the Chargers in which he averaged 5.4 yards per carry with a couple touchdowns as Austin Ekeler's backup. But what Jackson proved in Detroit this past season is he can also be an elite kickoff return man. He had only ever returned five kickoffs in his NFL career before coming to Detroit this season. He won the job for the Lions and finished with a 26.7 yard return average, which was seventh best in the league this year.
Free agents: Williams (unrestricted), Jackson (unrestricted), Reynolds (exclusive rights)
Williams will turn 28 years old before the start of his seventh season in 2023 but is coming off a career season. He's expressed an interest to return and it seems like that would suit the interests of both Williams and the Lions.
Jackson was nice edition and proved to be a very capable No. 2 when Swift was dealing with injuries. He's a terrific special teamer and there's some versatility to his game on offense.
Expect Reynolds to be back for a third training camp competing for a role.
Outside of their own free agents, Las Vegas' Josh Jacobs is the top back on the open market. He led the NFL in rushing with 1,653 yards in 2022. New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley will also be a hot commodity. Other names include Tony Pollard (Dallas), Miles Sanders (Philadelphia) and David Montgomery (Chicago).
Draft: It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility Lions general manager Brad Holmes looks to add some young talent to the backfield to compete for carries.
Bijan Robinson out of Texas is the clear No. 1 running back in this year's draft class and a player expected to hear his name come off the board in the first round. He's been linked to Detroit at No. 18 in some early mock drafts. Robinson blends size, speed and vision after rushing for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry for the Longhorns this past season.
Players of note who could be available Day 2 or Day 3 include Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs, UCLA's Zach Charbonnet, Georgia's Kenny McIntosh and Ole Miss' Zach Evans.
Quotable: "The fact that we got a 1,000-yard rusher because that speaks volumes not only to him, but the o-line and the 17 touchdowns," Campbell said after the season of one of the stats that impresses him most about the season.
"I mean, that's – to surpass one of the great ones of all time, particularly one of the greats of all time and he happens to be here at Detroit and Barry (Sanders). I just – that's impressive, but that's something they all can share. They're all a part of that, the o-line, the tight ends, the receivers blocking downfield and of course him – him doing what he does. So, I just – I think it's great. I think it's impressive."