The Detroit Lions’ 2021 season is unfolding the way most analysts expected it would through three games. They’re in a transition year in life after Matthew Stafford and his replacement, Jared Goff, is playing like a winless starter.
But amidst all the darkness is the emergence of running back D’Andre Swift, who’s quickly becoming the kind of playmaker NFL draft scouts projected when he was a second-round pick out of Georgia in the 2020 NFL draft.
Swift is the Lions’ leading rusher—33 carries, 123 yards, 1 touchdown—and has the most receptions on the team—19 catches, 166 yards, 1 touchdown—despite sharing time in the backfield with Jamaal Williams. Swift’s logged 134 snaps this year compared to Williams’ 85.
Swift’s performance in 2021 isn’t just pacing the Lions’ offense, where he has the second-highest Pro Football Focus grade (76.6) on that side of the ball. His grade ranks ninth among all running backs this season and his 91.0 receiving grade is second only to Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey.
The Lions haven’t had a player with Smith’s skill set come along very often. He’s just the third running back in franchise history to begin a season with three straight games with 40 or more receiving yards—and in an offense managed by a quarterback who prefers checking down to running backs over pushing the ball downfield, there’s no reason to think Swift’s production as a receiver will slow down. Detroit is likely to be playing from behind for most of the season too, which will give him even more opportunities as a pass-catcher.
Swift is currently second in receptions among running backs this year, trailing only Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Najee Harris (20). Swift’s 19 catches are more than McCaffrey had after three games (15) in 2019 when he registered an incredible 116 receptions. This isn’t to say Swift is the next McCaffrey. But there’s no reason why he can’t emerge as one of the NFL’s top running backs by the end of the year.
Check out some of these plays he made in Week 3 against the Ravens. His explosive skill set is obvious:
Swift’s ability to make the first man miss and gain those extra, sometimes hidden yards, is the difference between a running back with average production and a guy who can rank near the top in most categories.
Speaking of finding hidden yards:
Lions head coach Dan Campbell acknowledged Swift was the team’s top weapon against the Baltimore Ravens and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn did his part to get him the ball.
“I think you see the hot hand, right?” Campbell said on Sunday. “He started getting the ball in his hands and started making some plays. I would imagine (Lynn) upstairs was saying, ‘Let’s keep getting him the ball.’ And I was conscious of it as well.”
Campbell’s comments bode well for Swift’s usage and workload moving forward. Detroit will face the Chicago Bears and their 20th ranked rushing defense at Soldier Field on Sunday in a game that should feature a bunch of touches for Swift, as Goff and the offense try to slow Khalil Mack and the Bears’ pass rush.
If Swift continues stacking productive games, it’ll be time to include him in the conversation about the league’s top dual-threat running backs.
- May 16, 2022
- May 16, 2022