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NFL Scouting Combine

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Versatile running back group offers Lions plenty of options

INDIANAPOLIS – The great thing about the skill set rookie running back Kerryon Johnson showed off last season for the Lions is that it gives the Lions plenty of options in finding him some potential running mates.

There was only one runner in the NFL last season (Green Bay's Aaron Jones) who recorded a better average per rush than Johnson's 5.4 yards per carry. That showed Johnson's consistency as a runner.

Johnson also caught 32 balls out of the backfield, and was very good in short-yardage situations -- Two more skill sets featured in his game. What Johnson really showed is that he can be a three-down back, but don't expect the Lions to run him ragged in 2019.

"I never use the word bell-cow," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said at the Combine this week when asked if he considered Johnson a bell-cow back moving forward. "The way the NFL's set up nowadays, you've got to have multiple backs. There are really one or two guys in the league you're going to turn around and hand the ball off to 30-plus times.

"And I think it's a long season, it's a long training camp – so to keep everyone healthy and fresh through the second half of the season, it's not good to kind of have just one, main guy."

That being said, Johnson's skill set opens the door for the Lions to add just about any kind of back they think may fit in new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's scheme. If they decide to add a back via the draft, it can be the best back available and not one that fits a specific skill set.

"It's hard to say exactly like, 'Hey, this is the complement to Kerryon,' because he does a couple of different things pretty well," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said at the Combine. "I think for us, it's just about trying to find balance in all of the players that we have and certainly, competition I think at that point will take care of itself once we get through the spring and through training camp and as we move toward the season, what do we think best balances out our offense as overall players?

"The good thing with Kerryon is he can kind of do a couple different things, which is good. He's not just kind of in one area."

Veterans LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner, Detroit's second and third leading rushers last season, are unrestricted free agents. Theo Riddick is entering the last year of his contract.

So, if the Lions are looking in the draft for a complementary back for Johnson, players of all shapes, sizes and skill sets seem open to evaluation.

Alabama's Josh Jacobs is considered by most to be the best back in this draft and a likely first-round pick. Though Quinn hasn't ruled out any position with the No. 8 pick, running back seems like an unlikely choice given Johnson's success last season and some other bigger needs to fill.

Day 2 and maybe even early in Day 3 could certainly be an option for the Lions, however, and there will be good backs with a wide range of abilities available to them. Players like Damien Harris (Alabama), Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic), David Montgomery (Iowa State), Bryce Love (Stanford), Darrell Henderson (Memphis), Benny Snell (Kentucky), Elijah Holyfield (Georgia) and Rodney Anderson (Oklahoma) are all possibilities. And all possess a wide range of body types and skill sets.

"I think all of these guys can pass protect and catch and run the ball. That's officially what we're all here for," Montgomery said Thursday at the Combine. "All these guys in this class are good. They're second to none. There's definitely some talent in this class.

"Our class is not looked at as the best, but we definitely have some gems in here. I'm definitely excited to see what will happen here in the future, see how guys will pan out and see where guys are years from now."

Could one of them be in Detroit as Johnson's running mate? We'll see soon enough.

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