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NFL Draft

What Will D’Andre Swift’s Role Be In 2021?

  • The Draft Network
  • May 26, 2021
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If NFL rebuilds are a marathon, not a sprint, then the Detroit Lions will need to pace themselves accordingly. The litany of new faces among Detroit’s brass, including general manager Brad Holmes, head coach Dan Campbell, and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, won’t see immediate success; there’s just no feasible way with the current roster. Still, the Lions pulled off one head-turning offseason move to continue their overhaul.

There are still needs that need to be addressed in the Lions’ offense, particularly at wide receiver; and building a team player by player is no easy feat in the ever-competitive NFL. If they want the new face of their franchise to be successful after leaving the West Coast, the Lions need a top receiver. Quarterback Jared Goff’s help won’t solely be out wide, though. In this pass-happy league, a strong running game can help open up the offense while tiring out the opposing defense. When teams have the talent and depth necessary for the popular run-by-committee approach, their offense can be more versatile—and likely more successful. The Lions had none of that in 2020. 

Detroit finished last season 5-11 and void of a playoff appearance for the fourth consecutive season. While the Lions’ passing game was average, their run game was one of the worst in the NFL. Detroit averaged 93.7 yards per game—which was good for the third-fewest yards per game—and was led by the aging Adrian Peterson and then-rookie D’Andre Swift. The Lions’ overhaul extended to its running backs and now Swift is poised to lead the group in his second season. Similar to 2020, where Peterson finished with a team-leading 604 yards while Swift was close behind with 521, Swift won’t be the only back to carry the load.

Jamaal Williams joined the Lions this offseason after four seasons with the Packers. Williams, except for his rookie season in 2017, has been following Aaron Jones in Green Bay. Swift’s emerging role in Detroit’s offense will likely be in tandem with Williams’ presence; something Swift openly discussed on a recent episode of the PFF Fantasy Football Podcast and Lynn shared with The Athletic.

“I don’t see them as being interchangeable, I see them more as being complementary,” he said. “Swift is more of a speed-space back; Jamaal can be more of a between-the-tackles and sometimes perimeter.”

Lynn’s expertise will help with Swift’s development in a pivotal second season; the Lions have had a dormant rushing attack while Lynn manned the league’s top rushing offense in 2016 with the Buffalo Bills. Swift is capable of being the 1,000-plus yard rusher he was at Georgia and could be the Lions’ first 1,000-yard running back since Reggie Bush in 2013. 

Last season, Swift finished with 114 carries for 521 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. He was also a reliable receiver, totaling 46 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns. Even with Williams’ addition, if Smith is able to play a full season with better play-calling and offensive line play, he could see his rushing output double. He’s already projected, by some metrics, to exceed the 1,000-yard mark while other fantasy football projections have him floating around 800 yards. 

Swift’s role in Year 2 should be in tandem with Williams. The two behind the fortified offensive line could create a potent rushing duo. The increased role and touches will aid in Swift’s development. In this offense, it’s clear he’ll be the B back, as Lynn described. Both rushers in Detroit are coming off of RB2 roles, but that doesn’t mean Swift will have to always play behind Williams, who will be Lynn’s A back. 

Swift can make good use of his touches and be a successful pass-catcher out of the backfield. Any production building on what he was able to do for Detroit last season will be a win—and for the Lions, they should take any wins they can get.

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