Young players in the NFL usually make their biggest jump in development and production from their first season to their second. Tight end T.J. Hockenson was a great example of that last year for the Lions, making his first Pro Bowl in his second season.
The Lions are hoping to see a similar leap from running back D’Andre Swift as the former second-round pick out of Georgia heads into his second season in 2021.
Swift showed flashes as a rookie, rushing for 521 yards (4.6 average) and eight touchdowns, along with catching 46 passes for 357 yards and two more scores in 13 games. Swift's 10 touchdowns tied for the fourth most by a rookie in 2020.
Swift is expected to play an even bigger role in Anthony Lynn's new offense this season. Swift knew he had to improve certain elements of his game to handle the expected increase in usage.
"Just full body strength," he said Thursday of the things he really focused on improving this offseason. "Being stronger in every area and my conditioning."
Swift said the focus with his trainers down in west Florida this offseason was adding strength and speed.
He showed off the speed element in Thursday's open OTA practice. He took a short crosser from quarterback Jared Goff and accelerated past linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin – one of the fastest linebackers on the roster – and the rest of the defense for a huge gain down the right sideline.
"I would say his twitch and his quickness definitely shows up," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Swift. "It was a breath of fresh air to see it.
"Look, I said this from day one, we're excited to be able to work with him. We think he's got a lot of talent, and he's got so much room to grow. To have Jamaal (Williams) in there with him, I think will do wonders. But obviously, to be with (RB coach) Duce (Staley) – I think Duce is going to pull the best out of this kid. He's going to really grow, so we're excited about him."
One of the areas where we could really see a big jump from Swift in 2021 is in the passing game.
Among all NFL running backs last year, Swift ranked 13th in receptions (46) and 11th in receiving yards (357), and his 7.8 yard receiving average was the ninth highest. Swift said he could be a 75-plus catch player out of the backfield if given the opportunity.
The old regime brought Swift along at a slow pace last year as a rookie. He didn't have a double-digit carry game until Week 5 and didn't make his first start until Week 9.
I expect Swift to be a big part of Detroit's plans on offense right from the start this season. He's coming in stronger and faster, and ready to have a big second season for the Lions.