The Detroit Lions have long been an organization that is a little bit obscure and out of the headlines. But in recent weeks that has definitely not been the case. The Lions had a viral moment two weeks ago when newly hired head coach Dan Campbell went on a rant about how his team is going to be biting off kneecaps and kicking people in the teeth in an effort to show how his team will be tough. Then, this past weekend, the Lions stole the headlines as they orchestrated one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent memory, sending Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Jared Goff and multiple first-round picks.
Goff joins the Lions at a time when things are going to be getting worse before they get better. The team is set to undergo a long-term rebuild, where acquiring draft capital and young talent to build for the future is the ultimate goal moving forward. The ownership group seemingly signed off on this when they gave Campbell and newly hired general manager Brad Holmes six-year deals—which is longer than your average initial contract.
Campbell and Holmes took the necessary steps in starting this rebuild by trading Stafford and acquiring extra first-round picks in both 2022 and 2023, setting themselves up nicely in the years to come. But what about next season? Those picks aren’t going to help Goff lead this team to wins next year, and even if the goal is to build for the future, if Campbell hopes to establish a culture that is about toughness and resilience, then he will have to win some games in the short term.
The Lions are a team with holes just about everywhere. Defensively, they need to add difference-makers at all three levels. The team lacks any sort of elite talent on this side of the ball, and this will be something that Holmes and Co. will look to address in the next few drafts—most likely starting this year when they pick seventh overall.
Offensively, this team is in better shape, but still not in great shape overall. The Lions have been known as a passing team really ever since Matthew Stafford was drafted back in 2009, and that is mainly due to the talent at receiver the team has been able to have over the years. That will most likely not be the case in 2021, as receivers Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, and Kenny Golladay are all set to test the market this offseason. Detroit does have a very good young tight end in T.J. Hockenson who had a breakout season last year earning himself a Pro Bowl selection. But outside of Hockenson, Goff will have very few options to throw to. The Lions may not be able to pass the ball like they have in year’s past, but I believe they’ll be able to run the ball better than they have in more than a decade.
The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2013 when Reggie Bush ran for 1,006 yards, and they have had only four since 1998 when Barry Sanders was still playing. It always seemed like it was Stafford dropping back 40-plus times per game and Detroit losing shootouts late. We were always hoping they could provide Stafford a true running game to lean on, and unfortunately, it never happened. Well, I do believe it’s going to happen for Goff. Based on the philosophy of Campbell, a former blocking tight end who believes that running the football is essential in building a tough mentality, as well as the hires Campbell has made for his offensive staff, this team is going to pound the rock. A lot.
Campbell hired former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn to be his offensive coordinator, and he also hired former Eagles assistant head coach and running backs coach Duce Staley for the same position he held with Philadelphia. These two coaches are considered two of the best running back coaches in the NFL and have a proven track record of producing strong rushing attacks. Back in 2016 as the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator, Lynn oversaw an offense that led the league in rushing yards per game, touchdowns, and finished second in attempts per game. Lynn has helped develop backs such as LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, and Austin Ekeler, and will now get the opportunity to work with a player who I believe will be a future Pro Bowl back in D'Andre Swift.
Swift is in the early lead for the biggest winner of the offseason. His gunslinger quarterback has been traded for a quarterback who is at his best with a running game so he can pass off of play-action. His new head coach is a smash-mouth type who wants to establish the run to set the tempo of the game. And his offensive coordinator and running backs coach are both former running backs who are considered running back gurus. Also, the Lions' offensive line is actually above average with good run blockers in center Frank Ragnow, left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Jonah Jackson. If you play fantasy football, start taking some notes.
After being drafted in the second round by the Lions last year, Swift was supposed to come in and help spark a Lions running game that has been anemic for years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, as the Lions finished 30th in rushing with 93.7 yards per game—but that was hardly Swift's fault. Swift finished his rookie campaign with 521 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while playing in a committee with 35-year-old Adrian Peterson and the oft-injured Kerryon Johnson. Swift’s eight touchdowns led the team on the ground, and his 4.6 yards per attempt were significantly better than Peterson’s 3.9 and Johnson’s 3.5. Anyone who watched Detroit last year knew that Swift was by far their best back, but the coaching staff refused to treat him as such. I don’t expect this new regime to follow suit.
Lynn has a track record of having a clear No. 1 back, with a second back being used in certain situations or just to spell the main starter. I personally believe that when you do have a talented back, this is how it should be. Backs need strong carry volume to get into a rhythm and understand the defense they are facing. It’s tough for backs to consistently produce when they are splitting time and can never get into a consistent rhythm. I expect Lynn to feature Swift and give him 15-20 carries per game as compared to his 8.8 average as a rookie.
Rookie running backs such as James Robinson, Jonathan Taylor, and J.K. Dobbins all had great years last season, but we shouldn’t sleep on Swift. Swift is just as talented as these three backs; he was just in a worse situation.
After studying tape of Swift’s rookie season, I came away very, very impressed. Swift is an explosive back with excellent foot quickness, hip fluidity, vision, and burst. He runs with outstanding patience on inside zone and allows his blockers to get to their landmark and he has the vision to see the hole and the burst to explode through it. I believe he is a much better inside runner than he gets credit for, and I love his contact balance and leg drive upon contact. He has the speed to get the edge on outside runs and is capable of making defenders miss in the open field due to his footwork and change of direction. Swift can also win as a receiver out of the backfield, showing an ability to run routes and get in and out of breaks with ease and good hands to catch the football (yes, I remember the Chicago drop, but otherwise he was fine as a receiver).
Overall, I see a lot of similarities between Swift and Aaron Jones, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Swift have similar production next season.
- Jun 24, 2022
- Jun 22, 2022