It's pretty amazing to think that a Detroit Lions rushing attack that amassed 2,179 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago, ranking 11th in the NFL (128.2 yards per game), will look almost completely different in 2023.
Gone are Detroit's top two backs from a season ago – Jamaal Williams (New Orleans) and D'Andre Swift (Philadelphia) – and in step veteran David Montgomery and No. 12 overall pick in last weekend's draft Jahmyr Gibbs. The team also returns Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson and Greg Bell.
The crazy thing about looking at the transition in Detroit's backfield this offseason is there's a very real argument that the rebuilt group has a chance to be even more productive and explosive than the 2,000-yard, 20-touchdown backfield from a year ago.
Lions GM Brad Holmes tried to re-sign Williams in free agency, but when he went looking for more money, Holmes quickly pivoted to Montgomery. Montgomery has rushed for at least 800 yards and five touchdowns in each of his first four seasons in the league. In Chicago, he ran behind an offensive line that isn't anywhere close to as talented as what he'll be running behind in Detroit. Montgomery ran for 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns with a 4.3 average per carry in 2020. He also has 155 receptions in four seasons, which wasn't a big part of Williams' game in Detroit. In his four seasons with the Bears, he had 3,609 rushing yards and 1,240 receiving yards. That's an average of 1,212.3 yards from scrimmage per season.
The Lions are certainly going to miss Williams' tough running style, especially in the red zone, and his presence in the locker room, but Montgomery is a younger, faster more versatile player overall.
"To come here and play with a team that's started something crazy ... I'm blessed," Montgomery said. "I'm very, very excited to be in an offense that is so powerful and dynamic. I'm excited to be a part of it."
After selecting Gibbs on Thursday, Holmes traded Swift to Philadelphia for a future fourth-round pick and the opportunity to move up 30 spots in the seventh round last Saturday.
"(Swift) was in his last year of his contract," Holmes said after the trade. "And, if I go back to last year, I felt really good about us being able to bring back Jamaal Williams. I felt confident as the season ended, and I felt good with our conversations with his camp. And it didn't happen. So, you have to just be prepared for all those things.
"We don't draft scared. We don't kind of play scared. The thing with Jahmyr Gibbs is that's the guy that we loved. But again, having to keep that laser focus for the future, all those things become a part of it. We want to do the right thing for the player. And so that's kind of how we do it. I think at the end of the day, (Swift) being able to go back to his hometown on a really, really good team, that was just in the Super Bowl, I think it was a win-win for all parties involved."
In Gibbs, the Lions added arguably one of the most explosive players in the entire draft. He is a player who led Alabama in rushing, receptions and kick return yards last season. Gibbs has 4.3-second speed and catches the football just as well as he runs it.
"We didn't acquire a running back in the first round," Holmes said. "We acquired an elite weapon to keep our offense explosive."
Swift was more shifty than strait-line fast. He had three productive seasons in Detroit, but injuries and a lack of availability always hampered his real potential.
Detroit returns arguably one of the top offensive lines in football and the duo of Montgomery and Gibbs offer more elusiveness in their run style, added playmaking ability in the passing game and just more big-play potential overall, especially when talking about Gibbs.
It'll be a new-look backfield in Detroit in 2023, but it will be a fun one to watch and one that has the potential to be even more dangerous than the 2022 iteration.