If I told you that a Detroit Lions running back has carried the ball 37 times for 195 yards over the last two weeks, you’d probably shrug your shoulders and think, “of course, it’s D’Andre Swift after all.” Perhaps, you’d think Jamaal Williams is capable of those numbers after a quality tenure with the Green Bay Packers and his solid reps in place of Swift when the starter’s been out of the lineup. But, Craig Reynolds? Seriously??
Yes, Reynolds is that running back who’s suddenly become the pulse of the Lions offense over a stretch of two games that includes one win for a team that only has two on the season. He’s that running back who entered the league in 2019 as an undrafted rookie with Washington after finishing third all-time on Kutztown College’s rushing list. And he’s that running back who, before his recent explosion, only had one carry for two teams (the Jacksonville Jaguars being the other) in his first two seasons.
But none of that matters now, right? Reynolds, if nothing else, has proven one carry at a time that he belongs. In fact, he doesn’t just belong; he deserves touches. He’s a big reason why the Lions were able to upset the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15, and he’ll probably be a factor in their matchup against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday if Jared Goff can’t play.
It’s plays like this one that will force the Lions to keep Reynolds involved:
Stories like Reynolds’ are what makes the home-stretch of the season so fun. The wear and tear of a 17-game schedule inevitably force starters and even top backups out of the lineup, giving players like him a chance to jumpstart a career. And it’s runs like this that often keep guys like Reynolds on active rosters for a long time:
If you trust analytics, then you’re a Reynolds believer too. His Pro Football Focus grades for the last two weeks are basically elite. His 88.4 rushing grade is currently the fifth-best in the entire NFL. Granted, grades like that fluctuate mightily with more carries and he could plummet down the rankings as quickly as he’s ascended into this elite territory, but for now, he’s doing some pretty incredible things.
Reynolds has a good chance to make it three-straight productive games, too, depending on the status of Swift and Williams for Sunday. The Falcons aren’t exactly a league powerhouse right now, and even if Goff doesn’t suit up, Detroit should be able to keep this game in a positive-enough game script to allow Reynolds an opportunity for touches. Lions head coach Dan Campbell said this week that Reynolds has earned the right for carries even when the running back room is back to full strength.
Sure, Swift and Williams could (and likely will) return and dominate the carries like they did prior to Reynolds’ emergence in Week 14, but that shouldn’t diminish what he’s been able to do with his first real NFL opportunity. Reynolds is a player, and whether it’s with Detroit in 2022 or for a running back-needy team elsewhere, he’s going to stick around for a while.