Starting with the selection of Georgia running back D’Andre Swift in the second round, and continuing right into the fifth round with the selection of New Mexico State running back Jason Huntley, the Detroit Lions came out of the 2020 NFL Draft with a reshaped running back room.
Swift, arguably the top back in this class, is a terrific inside, outside, one-cut runner with 4.4 speed and big-play ability. He was a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in the SEC, and should have an immediate role in Detroit's backfield.
Swift joins Kerryon Johnson to form what has the potential of being a talented and young one-two punch. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 10 games as a rookie, though that number slipped to 3.6 yards per carry in 2019 in eight games. Johnson's missed 14 games his first two season due to knee injuries.
Huntley is a speedster. He recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards over his college career. He's also a plus return man on special teams. He could look to fill a similar role like what J.D. McKissic had in Darrell Bevell's offense last season. McKissic was the team's fourth leading receiver last year with 34 receptions. Huntley has a similar skill set, but with a little more natural speed.
When Johnson suffered a knee injury midseason and was placed on IR with the designation to return, Detroit turned to power back Bo Scarbrough. He was a nice find filling in for Johnson. Scarbrough averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 89 carries. He brings a no-nonsense north and south style to the backfield.
Detroit spent a sixth-round pick on Ty Johnson last year, and he showed some flashes, too, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and catching 24 passes out of the backfield.
"Listen, there's going to be competition in that running back room," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said after the draft. "We feel good about the depth of that room. The good thing about the running backs right now, we have them of all shapes and sizes. We have some bigger guys, we have some middle-sized guys. Huntley will be our smallest guy, but he's extremely fast. So (I'm) very confident that we'll find a role for him, and he is going to be in competition with Ty Johnson."
Detroit ranked 21st in rushing last season (103.1 yards per game), and hasn't ranked better than 17th in team rushing dating back to 2009.
Bevell would like to have more balance on offense than he did last year having to manage injuries at both running back and quarterback (three different starters). Bevell's previous offenses in Seattle and Minnesota finished in the top 10 in rushing percentage eight times in 12 years. That's important to note because running the football efficiently and being balanced on offense is an important part of head coach Matt Patricia's overall coaching philosophy.
Detroit added a talented run-blocking tackle in free agency in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and drafted guards Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg in the middle of the draft, both players who have reputations as above-average run blockers in the interior.
The additions at running back and along the offensive line could make for a better balanced offense in 2020.
How Bevell and the Lions divvy up playing time and reps in the backfield will be particularly interesting to watch when we get to the start of training camp. There's terrific depth at running back and seemingly a skillset for every situation.
Detroit's in a much better spot at the running back position than they were heading into the draft, with the potential for this to be a dangerous group, if they stay healthy.