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Draft Coverage

Senior Bowl running backs expected to impress this week

MOBILE, Ala. – The Detroit Lions rushed for 100-or-more yards in 13 games this season, the most since 1997. Detroit finished 11th in the NFL in rushing (128.1 yards per game) and averaged 4.5 yards per carry, while scoring 23 rushing touchdowns (third most in NFL).

Veteran running back Jamaal Williams became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Lions since Reggie Bush, and he also broke Barry Sanders' single-season touchdown record with 17.

But with Williams headed to free agency along with backup Justin Jackson, and D’Andre Swift about to start the last year of his rookie contract, running back could be a position Lions general manager Brad Holmes looks to boost this offseason.

It just so happens this is one of the best classes of running backs the Senior Bowl has seen in some time. Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy said there could be as many as five NFL starters from this year's group of backs taking part in the Senior Bowl this week.

It's a group that includes Georgia's Kenny McIntosh, Illinois' Chase Brown, Tulane's Tyjae Spears and Texas' Roschon Johnson, just to name a few. For the group of running backs this week it's all about how they separate themselves from the pack.

"My speed, my burst, my physicality and my focus," Brown, who rushed for 1,643 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Illini in 2022, said of the things he wants to show off. "Also my ability to create separation through burst."

McIntosh averaged 5.6 yards per carry for the National Champion Bulldogs this past season and also caught 43 passes. He totaled 1,324 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns and is expected to be an early Day 2 pick as a versatile three-down player. He left Tuesday's American Team practice a little early due to cramping but is expected to be OK.

Spears (5-9, 204) ran for 205 yards in Tulane's bowl win over USC and was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year. He rushed for nearly 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.

"I want to run my own race (this week) and prove to myself and many other scouts that I'm a three-down back," Spears said after Tuesday's American Team practice. "Run the ball, block, catch the ball out of the backfield. Do the whole nine."

College players typically don't care which team they end up on in the NFL. They just want to be drafted and make it to the league, but that doesn't mean certain teams can't be more appealing than others based on their style of play and personnel. Let's face it, running behind one of the best offensive lines in football would be appealing to any young running back who might end up with the Lions.

"I've watched a lot of Jamaal Williams. I'm a big fan of him," Johnson said. "Just the type of guy that he is. I definitely watch them (Detroit) and their style of offense and I would love to play in something like that."

Johnson is an interesting prospect. He would have started at just about any college in the nation but was the backup for Bijan Robinson, who is considered the top running back in this year's draft class. Robinson has been mocked to Detroit with their second first-round pick in some early mock drafts. Johnson gained 554 yards and had five touchdowns on only 93 carries (6.0 average). He's big (6-0, 225) and physical, but has good burst.

Northwestern's Evan Hull had a nice start to his week with some big runs in the National Team practice.

It's a really good group of running backs here in Mobile with a variety of skillsets that Lions talent evaluators will get a chance to get a close look at this week.

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