The Detroit Lions pulled a stunner when they drafted former Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the No. 12 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Jahmyr Gibbs joins a crowded position room that also includes the recently acquired David Montgomery. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is now tasked with striking the correct balance between Gibbs and Montgomery in a new-look backfield.
Gibbs is a dynamic athlete that offers a rare skill set as a receiver coming out of the backfield. A legitimate dual-threat option, Gibbs recorded 44 receptions for 444 yards and three touchdowns at Alabama last season. Gibbs should handle all of Detroit’s passing-down work—the sky’s the limit for Gibbs’ passing-game production at this next level.
Gibbs’ route-running prowess is especially impressive. Expect Johnson to utilize Gibbs via wheel routes and option routes. Gibbs’ understanding of spacing and how to create separation will give him the upper hand against opposing linebackers. Johnson has the option to motion Gibbs out to a wide receiver alignment due to his refined nuance as a route-runner. Modern-day NFL offenses are constantly searching for mismatch opportunities. Gibbs will provide plenty.
The Lions traded D’Andre Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after drafting Gibbs. Swift was Detroit’s pass-catching back in 2022, hauling in 48 receptions on 70 targets for 389 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Lions quarterback Jared Goff enjoyed a passer rating of 107.2 when targeting Swift in the passing game, per Pro Football Focus. Goff should enjoy similar success when targeting Gibbs, who will hopefully develop into a healthier, more reliable, and more productive version of Swift.
Montgomery was a decent pass-catching back in Chicago, but it always felt out of sheer necessity. Montgomery accounted for 155 receptions across four campaigns with the Bears, but we expect those numbers to plummet in Detroit. Montgomery has never shared a backfield with a talented receiver like Gibbs.
Montgomery will particularly be heavily involved on early downs as a between-the-tackles runner though. Lions general manager Brad Holmes signed Montgomery to a three-year contract worth $18 million with the Lions in free agency. Montgomery’s average annual salary of $6 million was the second-highest contract signed by a ball-carrier who landed a multi-year contract (franchise tags notwithstanding). Only Miles Sanders’ yearly earnings with the Carolina Panthers ($6.250 million) surpassed Montgomery’s.
Montgomery will spearhead the Lions’ traditional rushing attack. At 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Montgomery is the ideal Jamaal Williams replacement. A similar hard-nosed, early-down runner, Montgomery is the prime candidate to replace Williams, who led the entire NFL in rushing touchdowns with 17. Williams’ 262 carries ranked seventh across the league and Montgomery could inherit the bulk of that workload.
That makes Montgomery and Gibbs the ideal pairing. Gibbs has 25th percentile height (5-foot-9) and 14th percentile weight (199) for the position. Gibbs doesn’t possess the physical profile of a three-down back, especially that of a short-yardage, early-down runner. That’s where Montgomery, who has nearly 30 pounds on Gibbs, comes into play.
Gibbs should be most effective when paired alongside a back like Montgomery that can handle the dirty work. It’s precisely why Holmes identified Gibbs as Montgomery’s change-of-pace partner. Expectations are high for the Lions and they became higher when they drafted an immediate contributor in Gibbs. David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs will form a productive tandem for the postseason-hopeful Lions.
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