Sophomore Superstars: D'Andre Swift
After looking at J.K. Dobbin's potential of breaking out and now I'll dive into Lions running back, D'Andre Swift. Swift was my highest ranked running back in the 2020 NFL Draft class and he was the 2nd running back taken behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Swift was most known for his ability to make ankle-breaking moves in college and the ability to play as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Below I'll go into how Swift performed last season in a crowded backfield.
2020 Stats: 13 games played
114 rushes 46 receptions/56 targets
521 yards 357 receiving yards
8 touchdowns 2 touchdowns
4.6 yards per attempt 7.8 yards per reception
In total, Swift had 160 touches for 878 yards (about 5.5 yards per touch) and 10 touchdowns on top of having 13 explosive runs (runs of 10+ yards).
Now we can look at what the other running backs in the room contributed last season.
Adrian Peterson 2020 Stats: 16 games played
3.9 yards per carry
12 receptions on 18 targets
Total touches: 168
Kerryon Johnson 2020 Stats: 16 games played
3.5 yards per carry
19 receptions on 26 targets
Total touches: 71
That alone is 239 total touches that are up for grabs from the running back room and that is before we get into the lost targets due to receivers leaving. There are 4 receivers who the Lions last this past offseason, who were, Marvin Jones (115 targets), Danny Amendola (69 targets), Kenny Golladay (32 targets in only 5 games), and Marvin Hall (30 targets). With all of those losses, there are now a total of 246 vacated targets solely from the losses at wide receiver. We can expect most of the targets to go to the newly added receivers the Lions brought in but I also expect some of them to be added to Swift's workload. In the end, there are a total of 485 combine vacated total targets and touches.
Now the Lions also added Jamal Williams to their backfield and he will no doubt take touches away from Swift but I don't think it will hold Swift back. Williams has been in the league for 4 years and has only received 120+ rushes one year and 150+ total touches once as well. Williams is a 2nd option in a backfield and has always played that role and I believe that will continue.
So let's go into why Swift is going to breakout.
To start looking at all of the vacated touches above, Swift's touches are going to increase dramatically, especially in the run game where there are over 200 rushes up for grabs.
Next, look at his already good workload in the pass game. Swift is an excellent receiving back and he may end up being the number 2-3 target in this offense.
Third, and arguably most important, the offensive line of the Lions is going to be very good. The Lions had an established offensive line coming into the offseason and proceeded to add the best offensive lineman in this draft class in Penei Sewell who is a physical specimen that will easily be a people mover in the NFL. Add on to the fact that they have established veterans in Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, the Lions are set to have a top 10 offensive line this season.
Last, but certainly not least is a head coaching change. Dan Campbell has played and coached in the NFL and at one point was the interim head coach for the Miami Dolphins. Campbell took over for the Dolphins in week 6 after their bye week and went 5-7 as the coach. None of that matters for Swift, but an interesting stat that does matter was the difference in rushing yards per game. Before Campbell took over, the Dolphins were averaging just under 70 yards per game. When Campbell took over though they averaged just over 100 rushing yards per game. Add on to the fact that Campbell came into Detroit wanting players who are willing to "bite kneecaps" and we can assume that Campbell is of the thought process of wanting to run the ball down opposing defense's throats and set a tone for the game. This will play well into Swift's breakout as we can expect as a whole that the Lions want to run the ball more.
One argument that can be made against Swift is that the Lions are overall going to be bad according to many people, including myself. That doesn't mean bad teams cannot have good/breakout players though. Also, Jared Goff has targeted his running backs at a lower rate than Matthew Stafford has but due to the lack of talent in the wide receiver room, I believe we will see an uptick in how often Goff targets his running backs which again will play in Swift's favor.
All of these reasons below are why Swift is going to break out in my opinion.
A LOT of vacated touches in the backfield as well as in the passing game
An already good offensive line has improved
A new head coach that wants to run the ball
Finally my projections for Swift's 2021 season over a 17 game schedule:
4.8-5.0 yards per carry
1,000-1,200 rushing yards
500-600 receiving yards
10+ rushing touchdowns
3+ receiving touchdowns