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Running backs looking to impress at Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. -- The Detroit Lions backfield is expected to look different in 2018.

Changes are obviously in order after Detroit finished last in the NFL in rushing this past season.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that Lions GM Bob Quinn looks to boost that position group through free agency and the NFL Draft.

This year's running back class is both talented and deep, which is good for a running-back needy team like the Lions. Penn State's Saquon Barkley is the head of the class, and most consider him a once-in-a-decade talent. There are a number of other highly touted underclassman in this draft at running back.

There are also a number of intriguing seniors down here at the Senior Bowl that hope to make a mark this week. That group is led by the NCAA's leading rusher last season, San Diego State's Rashaad Penny (5-11, 224), who recorded 2,248 rushing yards (7.8 average) and 23 touchdowns. He had an explosive run percentage of 12.4, according to Pro Football Focus. Penny is a one-cut power back hoping to show scouts he also has speed to reach the edge.

"I like getting north and south," Penny said Tuesday. "I mean, there's really no point of going east and west. East and west is going backwards. Going north and south is going forward."

Lions fans will certainly like to hear a back with that kind of attitude after Detroit finished with the seventh-most negative runs in the NFL last season, struggled in short-yardage rushing situations, and had the second-fewest percentage of rushes gaining at least four yards (36.4 percent) in the league last season.

LSU's Darrel Williams (5-11, 229) played in the shadows of 1,000-yard rushers Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, but is also a power back with receiving skills, who is hoping to prove that he can carry the load if asked to do so.

Williams averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season and scored nine touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for another 331 yards.

"My main thing is show that I'm not a backup back," Williams told "I'm a great competitor. I'm ready to work. I'm going to fight for my spot and earn my spot."

Williams says one of the big advantages of splitting the backfield with Fournette and Guice the last couple seasons is that he's more fresh than some of the other backs in this class, and there's less wear and tear on his body. Saints running back Alvin Kamara, a candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year this season, had just over 200 carries his last two seasons at Tennessee, which was touted as an advantage when he was entering the league. Williams had less than 200 the last two years at LSU.

NC State's Jaylen Samuels (5-11, 223) is another back down at the Senior Bowl this week trying to throw his hat into a deep class of running backs for 2018.

Samuels played receiver, tight end and running back at NC State. He averaged 5.2 yards on the ground with 12 rushing touchdowns last season, but also caught 75 passes for 593 yards for another four scores.

"Most teams that I talked to project me as a running back that can also get split out on third down," Samuels told

Samuels says his versatility gives him an advantage over some other backs in this class, given the NFL's advanced passing attacks and how they're increasingly using backs in that attack.

Last year's draft had eight backs taken in the first three rounds, with Kamara and Kansas City's Kareem Hunt earning Pro Bowl nods as third-round picks.

Like a season ago, there are running backs of all shapes, sizes and skill levels in this class, perfect for a team like Detroit looking to upgrade at the position. The group of seniors down here at the Senior Bowl are hoping to make the first impression this offseason.

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