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2024 training camp preview: Running back

On the roster: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds, Sione Vaki, Zonovan Knight, Jake Funk, Jermar Jefferson

Key losses: None

Name Games Rush yards Avg. Rec. Rec. yards Total TD
David Montgomery 14 1,015 4.6 16 117 13
Jahmyr Gibbs 15 945 5.2 52 316 11
Craig Reynolds 17 179 4.4 5 47 1
Sione Vaki* 12 317 7.5 11 203 5
Zonovan Knight 2 13 4.3 1 8 0
Jake Funk^ 4 10 5.0 1 12 0
Jermar Jefferson 0 0 0.0 0 0 0

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Third running back role

Montgomery and Gibbs became the first set of teammates in NFL history to produce at least 1,000 scrimmage yards and 10 rushing touchdowns for a team in the same season last year. The duo is one of the best in football and enter 2024 as running backs 1A and 1B in Detroit's backfield.

What will be fun to watch is who emerges as the No. 3 and No. 4 backs. Those players will have critical depth roles and spell Montgomery and Gibbs from time to time.

Reynolds has done a really nice job in that role the last three seasons, averaging a very respectable 4.2, 4.4 and 4.4 yards per carry, while also showing good hands out of the backfield and the ability to pass protect and block in the passing game. His block to spring wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for a touchdown in Tampa Bay last season was one of the best plays for the Lions.

Then there's Vaki, who the Lions drafted in the fourth round in this year's NFL Draft and who has looked really good in the spring, especially as a pass catcher out of the backfield. The Lions see a ton of upside in him having only played running back sparingly in an emergency situation at Utah.

Jefferson, Knight and Funk are all experienced backs who will have an opportunity to make plays in camp and the preseason to try and make their marks and earn a roster spot.

Twentyman's take: Detroit is in a really good spot in their backfield. Montgomery and Gibbs fit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson's scheme perfectly and are a terrific complement to each other. I expect Gibbs to be an even bigger part of the offense in his second season, especially in the passing game. He reminds me of a faster, more explosive Alvin Kamara, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see him with 75-plus targets this season. Assistant head coach and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery said this spring they are working on making Gibbs more of an intermediate and deep field weapon in the passing game, not just a dump off and option back.

Reynolds is as steady as they come and the coaching staff trusts him, which gives him a leg up for that No. 3 role heading into camp, but Vaki's potential is very intriguing.

"He looks so natural as a runner," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said of Vaki after his draft selection. "I was like, 'Wait, where did these backyard instincts of his come from of just him running the ball and making these plays?' Not only does he have these instincts that are (more) natural (than) we thought, he's not even majoring in it."

His ability as a pass catcher out of the backfield really popped in the spring and that could be his ticket onto the field and into the offensive rotation early on.

View photos of Lions fourth-round pick Sione Vaki from the 2024 offseason.

By the numbers:

5: Montgomery (3) and Gibbs (2) combined for five individual 100-yard rushing games last season.

15: Rushes of 20-plus yards for Detroit running backs in 2023, fourth most in the NFL last year.

27: Rushing touchdowns for the Lions in 2023, which was tied with Miami and San Francisco for the NFL lead.

869: Detroit finished second in the NFL with 869 rushing yards before contact. Only Baltimore (992) had more.

2,653: Lions running backs combined for 2,653 scrimmage yards last year, led by Gibbs (945 rushing, 316 receiving), Montgomery (1,015 rushing, 117 receiving), Reynolds (179 rushing, 47 receiving), Knight (13 rushing, eight receiving) and Devine Ozigbo (eight receiving, five rushing).

4,624: Career rushing yards for Montgomery dating back to his first season in the league in Chicago in 2019. Over the last five seasons that total ranks eighth in the NFL.

Quotable: "We have high expectations for ourselves," Montgomery said this spring of himself and Gibbs heading into their second season together. "Both of us together didn't think that was good enough (last year). We want to be better this year and we will. There's definitely a ton of ways to get better and we will."

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