Best competition: Roster spots after Swift and Williams
The Lions kept four running backs and a fullback on the initial 53-man roster out of camp last season. Three of those backs and Cabinda were active Week 1 vs. San Francisco.
Swift and Williams are expected to get the bulk of the carries, but both backs were banged up at times last year and Detroit's depth at running back was needed. It's tough to play 17 games as a running back in the NFL.
Reynolds, Igwebuike and Jefferson all proved capable when given a chance to play last year, which should make this competition in training camp and the preseason pretty interesting. And don't count out Bell, who is a shifty back with some skills.
Igwebuike had some success last year returning kicks, and special teams is always a great path to making a roster. Reynolds got some run with the first-team offense in the offseason training program. Jefferson will have to prove in camp he can be more of a threat in the passing game and protect the quarterback.
However it shakes out with the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, head coach Dan Campbell has to feel pretty good about the star power, experience, versatility and depth he's got at the running back position heading into his second season at the helm in Detroit.
Twentyman's take: Not included in the stats above was what Detroit's running backs meant to the passing game last year. The 106 combined receptions from Lions backs was the fourth most in the NFL behind only Tampa Bay (110), Las Vegas (108) and Carolina (107). Swift was leading all running backs in receptions before injuring his shoulder on Thanksgiving and missing the next month. With Swift especially, the Lions think they have a matchup weapon in the passing game, especially with all the other receiving threats the Lions added this offseason likely to draw more attention from opposing defenses.
I'm pretty high on Swift's potential impact in his third season. I think he can be in the Pro Bowl conversation if he stays healthy, because he'll have that many opportunities to make plays in this offense, and he'll be running behind what could be a top three offensive line.
Williams is a tough, experienced No. 2 and a good complement to Swift. Reynolds, Igwebuike and Jefferson have all been proven playmakers. It's a quality group overall and it will be a tough decision to settle on a top four, but that's a good problem to have.
By the numbers:
9: The Lions had nine players record a rush of 20-plus yards a season ago. They are the first team to do that since the 1984 Chicago Bears.
17: The Lions lined up in a two-or-more running back formation 17 percent of the time last year. The league average was 11 percent.
42: Lions runs last year resulting in 10-plus yards, the ninth most in the NFL.
48.1: Percent of Detroit's rushes went to the weak side (opposite side where TE lines up), which was the highest frequency in the NFL.
314: Receiving yards after contact recorded by Detroit running backs in 2021, the fifth most in the NFL.
1,886: The Lions recorded 427 rushing attempts for 1,886 yards (4.4 avg.) and 12 touchdowns in 2021. It marked the first time Detroit has topped 1,800 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns and maintained a rushing average of at least 4.4 since 1998.
Quotable: "I feel like if I'm healthy the sky is the limit," Swift said this offseason. "(Running backs coach) Duce (Staley) is going to take me to that level. I trust him. He trusts my ability. The guys around pushing me. We push each other. There's a lot of hidden yardage out there when I watch the tape from last year.
"I'm really critical of myself. I was watching tape the other day, like the first six games (of last year), I feel like I missed a lot of runs. Be more patient, fall forward, run behind my pads a little better, route running being more crisp. All those little details and stuff to work on to take my game to the next level."