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Lions could look to draft to bolster running back depth

INDIANAPOLIS – When healthy, Kerryon Johnson has proven he can be a productive running back for the Detroit Lions. Only he and Barry Sanders have rushed for more than 1,000 yards while averaging 4.5 yards per carry in franchise history through their first two seasons.

The problem isn't talent or production when it comes to Johnson, it's availability. The former second-round pick has played in just 18 games total his first two seasons because of two separate knee injuries that have landed him on IR.

The hope is obviously that the injuries are behind Johnson, and he'll have a long, productive and healthy career moving forward.

Johnson's injury this past season helped the Lions discover Bo Scarbrough, who was good filling in for Johnson. He and Johnson were also good as a duo the last two games of the year when Johnson returned from IR.

But Johnson's injury history could have the Lions looking to free agency or the draft to bolster the running back room. If they take the draft route, they'll have plenty of options in what most consider a very deep class of runners.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn listed running back among the four deepest position groups down here at the Scouting Combine when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday.

It's a versatile group of runners with a lot of production under their belt, led by Georgia's D'Andre Swift, a likely first-round pick.

While this class of runners is deep, it's not filled with a lot of top-end talent compared to some other positions, which is good for those teams looking to add a running back later in the first round and into Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft.

Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, for instance, recorded back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons, and will likely run the 40-yard dash Friday in the 4.3-second range, but most draft projections have him still available into Day 2.

"If you look at the next level, what separates the great backs from the elite backs is really them playing on an elite level day in and day out every Sunday," Taylor said Wednesday. "I think that's one of the biggest things that separates me is my ability to be consistent year in and year out."

View photos from media availability at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 in Indianapolis.

Really productive backs like Taylor, Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins, LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Utah's Zack Moss, Florida State's Cam Akers and Florida's La'Mical Perine could all be options for teams to start Day 2 of the draft.

"Yeah, I admire all of them," Dobbins said of the talent around him in this class of runners. "They're all great backs - DeAndre Swift, Cam Akers, Clyde, Jonathan. They're all great backs."

More and more teams are moving to a running back by committee approach and stockpiling multiple talented runners. This is a deep group of backs for those teams to continue to do that.

"I think anytime you look at the running back position, it's such a long season, and those guys take on a ton of punishment," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said Tuesday. "I think that's one of the more tougher positions to play in terms of physicality, and I think you always need multiple guys to get to that finish line."

The Lions like what they have in Johnson, Scarbrough and even second-year back Ty Johnson, but Kerryon Johnson's injury history does open the door for Detroit to add another runner this offseason.

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