It’s hard to find many positives from the Detroit Lions’ 2021 season so far. They’re 0-7, have one of the NFL’s worst starting quarterbacks in Jared Goff, and have lost games in the most painful of ways, including a last-second NFL-record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that gave the Baltimore Ravens a 19-17 victory in Week 3.
Yes, the Lions are on track for the first overall pick, and sure, they’re playing tougher than their record would indicate, but the real silver lining from this year’s abomination of a season is second-year running back D’Andre Swift, who’s emerged as one of the NFL’s best young players at the position and who still hasn’t reached his full potential as a pro.
Swift’s season began as something of a pleasant surprise. His talent was never in doubt, but after an inconsistent rookie season that was marred by injury, his ascent as one of the NFL’s top pass-catching backs early in the year was noteworthy. But like anything else in the NFL, a couple of big games are hardly enough to define a season. Yet here we are, entering Week 8, and Swift remains among the league’s best backs.
Swift’s emergence in Year 2 of his career shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs summarized the former Georgia Bulldogs’ game prior to the 2020 NFL Draft in a way that’s about as accurate as a pre-draft assessment can be:
“D'Andre Swift is an unquestioned feature back and three down threat at the NFL level,” Crabbs wrote. “Swift brings a pretty rare blend of size, agility, speed, and receiving ability—he's capable of overhauling an NFL team's rushing attack with his every-down skill set. Swift projects well to an inside zone rushing offense, where his cuts and anticipation can shine, but he's a feasible fit in just about every rushing offense given his vast array of skills and rare blend of inside/outside talents. Day One plus starter.”
Swift’s 2021 rushing totals, at first glance, leave a bit to be desired. He’s carried the ball 78 times for 262 yards and three touchdowns, good for just 3.4 yards per carry, but he’s making the most of his touches in an offense that poses absolutely no threat of a deep passing game. Opposing defenses can cheat and focus on stopping the run because of how inept Goff has been in 2021. Let’s face it: Detroit’s passing game is essentially an extension of its running game; they don’t push the ball downfield, and defenders know it.
Still, Swift is making an impact when he’s in a position to do so. He’s having a phenomenal year as a receiver with 42 catches for 391 yards and two scores. He finished his rookie season with 46 catches in 13 games, a total he should surpass by the end of Week 8.
Swift showed the kind of rare playmaking ability he possesses in the Lions’ losing effort against the Rams in Week 7. He finished the game with eight catches for 96 yards, which included a ridiculous 63-yard touchdown early in the game.
Swift made most of those yards happen on his own, too. According to Next Gen Stats, he earned 47 more yards than expected after the catch.
The Lions have a lot of needs as we march toward the 2022 offseason. Quarterback is obviously the biggest. But Swift has provided general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell with enough evidence on the field that he not only is their long-term answer at running back, but he’s also the centerpiece of their offense moving forward.
Yes, Lions fans would love a few wins to build momentum heading into 2022. And yes, they’d be thrilled if Detroit can find an upgrade at quarterback this offseason too. But Swift’s development is a big win in a season that’s lacked any so far, and he’s the kind of player who can keep Detroit’s offense competitive even during their search for QB-next.
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