Skip to main content

2023 position breakdown: Running backs

The good: Lions running backs combined for 2,653 scrimmage yards this season, led by Jahmyr Gibbs (945 rushing, 316 receiving), David Montgomery (1,015 rushing, 117 receiving), Craig Reynolds (179 rushing, 47 receiving), Zonovan Knight (13 rushing, eight receiving) and Devine Ozigbo (eight receiving, five rushing).

That group had the second most yards from scrimmage, third most touchdowns (25) and the second most rushing yards (2,157) among all running back rooms in the NFL this season.

Montgomery and Gibbs were arguably the best running back duo in the league this year. The Lions signed the veteran Montgomery in free agency last offseason and selected Gibbs with the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL Draft. They formed a big brother-little brother relationship and were a big reason for Detroit's success on offense this season.

They became the fourth pair of running backs to each eclipse 1,000 scrimmage yards and the first duo to rush for at least 10 touchdowns in the same season in Lions history. They are only the fourth set of running backs in NFL history to each rush for at least 10 touchdowns in the same season.

Montgomery and Gibbs fueled a Lions rushing attack that ranked among the best in the NFL this season and among all-time seasons in franchise history. Detroit had 14 games with 100-or-more rushing yards and a rushing touchdown this season, tied for the second most in the NFL and tied for the single-season franchise record (first set in 1981).

View photos of the Detroit Lions running backs from the 2023 NFL season.

The bad: There isn't a lot of bad to discuss with this group.

The eight dropped passes (11.3 percent) credited to Gibbs are probably a little high for his liking. That's a part of his game he can improve on heading into his second season.

There were also times when a run wasn't there and putting his head down for a one or two-yard gain would have been a better result than trying to bounce it outside for a negative gain. He had 17 negative rushes on the season. He'll learn with more experience.

Key stat: Detroit was tied with Miami and San Francisco with 27 rushing touchdowns and ranked fifth in rushing average (4.62).

MVP: David Montgomery

Montgomery was a force in his first season with Detroit, rushing 219 times for 1,015 yards (4.6 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. His 13 touchdowns were the second most rushing touchdowns a player has had in their first season with Detroit, trailing only Barry Sanders (14 in 1989), while his rushing yards ranked fifth.

There's some explosiveness to Montgomery's game he doesn't always get credit for. He was the first Lion with two 40-plus-yard touchdown runs in a single season (40 & 75) since Barry Sanders in 1998.

Montgomery has been consistent since entering the NFL in 2019. Over the last five season he ranks eighth in rushing yards (4,624), fifth in rushing first downs (264) and fourth in missed tackles (233).

Most improved: Jahmyr Gibbs

Gibbs certainly made his mark on the NFL in his rookie season, rushing 182 times for 945 yards (5.2 avg.) and 10 touchdowns along with 52 receptions for 316 yards (6.1 avg.) and one touchdown, totaling 1,261 scrimmage yards and 11 scrimmage touchdowns.

His 5.2-yard average per rush was third in the NFL this season and he was second behind only Arizona's James Conner (11) with 10 rushes of 20-plus yards.

Gibbs finished third among all rookies in scrimmage yards (1,261), second in rushing yards and led all rookies in rushing touchdowns. The future is very bright for Gibbs, who is already one of the best two-way backs in the NFL after just one season.

Free agents: Craig Reynolds (exclusive rights), Zonovan Knight (exclusive rights)

Both players are expected back next season to compete for the depth spots behind Montgomery and Gibbs.

Reynolds is one of the best third running backs on any roster. He's a player that's rushed for 100 yards in a game when given the opportunity to start and he's tough as nails. That block he made on the Amon-Ra St. Brown 27-yard touchdown Week 6 in Tampa Bay was one of the best plays of the year. He also rushed for a touchdown on a 4th & goal play in the playoff win over Tampa Bay.

Draft: The Lions aren't really in the market to add a young running back to the room but could do so later in the draft if the talent fits the slot. With Reynolds expected back in 2024, this is one of the most complete position groups heading into next season.

Quotable: "Yeah, he's improved in everything," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Gibbs at the end of the season. "I mean, I think you can see that. His protection has improved and that's not something that – you say, 'Well, we got him in here to protect.' No. But he's got to be able to do it and he's grown leaps and bounds in that regard.

"I think you see he's getting better in the pass game out of the backfield. That was somewhere we felt like there was a ton of room to grow. And it's getting better, and better, and better. And he's still got so much room to go there.

"But his running ability, his vision, he's just, to me, he really is a complete back that's continued to develop. But really, since the, I felt like the – we played the Ravens early in the year and that's when you felt like, 'Alright, the light's coming on.' And he's just, every week, gotten better, and better, and better. So, he's playing at a high level right now."

Related Content