There…that picture right there is what I want other teams to see when they think about the Detroit Lions running game.
Most NFL draft experts are seeing the Lions leaning toward focusing on defense for the 2017 draft. I seriously think that would be a mistake. The Lions need to cultivate a highly-effective running game and soon.
Yes, yes, I know that mantra “Defense wins championships.” So I did a bit of research. Granted, my research isn’t on the level of some (ok, most) sites but I think it tells a story.
Over the past 10 years, winning Super Bowl teams have ranked, on average, about 15th in the league in rushing the ball with a 114.8 yards per game. Losing teams were ranked 14th at 120.8 yards per game. Over that same 10 year span, the Lions average rank was 27th with a 90.8 yards per game average.
As for defense, I used total yards allowed for ranking. On winning Super Bowl teams, they ranked on average 11th in the league, giving up 317.8 yards a game, while the losing side ranked 12th while giving up 323 yards per game. The Lions? A dismal rank of 21 with a 356.7 yards per game average. However, over the last five years, they rank right with Super Bowl teams at 13 while giving up 338.6 yards per game.
Not so with the running game over the past five years. The Lions ranked at an average of 26 with a 93.4 yards per game.
While I agree that there are some defensive needs, I think getting a 3-down back to go with a healthy Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Zack Zenner would do a couple of things.
First, it would allow the Lions to improve on time of possession. Keeping opposing QB’s on the bench is a huge deal, especially when it comes to Aaron Rodgers.
Second, it would allow the Lions defense to stay fresh. They could pin their ears back and get after opposing QB’s for the entire game instead of being out on the field all the time gasping for breath.
Third, it would make Matthew Stafford a much more effective quarterback. Since the Lions running doesn’t scare opposing teams all that much, play fakes aren’t near as effective. Imagine the Lions are in a tight game late in the third quarter with a 7 point lead. But instead of a rushing total of less than 40 yards by that time, they have a back that’s at 75 yards or more. Stafford can either give the ball in a draw situation which freezes D-lineman and allows the offensive line to block effectively and the play gains 7-10 yards, moves the chains and the clock keeps moving.
Or, Stafford pulls the ball back, the runner dives into the line which forces the secondary to come up…Stafford drops two more steps, turns and throws a 30-yard strike down the sideline to Golden Tate who takes it in for a score.
A big running back with speed and good hands can do all that for a team. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys how they feel about Ezekiel Elliott these days.
I know Darius Slay needs help in the secondary but I also believe that can be had in the later rounds. I love Sidney Jones’s potential but to be honest, it’s not the most critical need.
Lions need to get a running back and I think they should do that in the first round. Then they can focus on other needs with the other 6 picks. Keep in mind that selecting any of these could mean using Abdullah or Riddick as trade material for future picks.
Options at 21:
- Alvin Kamara – Tennessee. 5-10, 215 lbs. 4.55 40 time.
- Christian McCaffery – Stanford. 6-1, 200 lbs. 4.49 40 time
- Dalvin Cook – Florida State. 6-0, 203 lbs. 4.52 40 time
- D’Onta Foreman – Texas. 6-1, 249 lbs. 4.55 40 time.
Kamara is a Jamal Charles style runner. He is a fast-slasher type of runner with some power. He has great hands and can be used as a slot receiver. If the Lions are confident with Kamara, they can trade Theo Riddick for multiple draft picks to use later to shore up the defense. I love Riddick but I think Kamara can be an every down back and be just as effective on third down as Riddick.
McCaffery has acceleration and explosiveness that separates him from other runners. Think Reggie Bush with some power. He may not run over tacklers but he does make yardage after contact. He is a home run threat on every down, has a great first step and doesn’t need much of a hole to get into the second level of defense. A patient runner, he can wait for the hole to develop as well and he is a capable receiver. He is the fastest of the four backs I have targeted. McCaffery could make Abdullah expendable while keeping Riddick as the 3rd down back and Zenner as a capable back-up.
Cook is reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch. Good speed, athleticism and versatility. He is put together well with a thick lower body that allows him to keep his balance and pick up additional yards after contact. He is fast to the hole and has serious acceleration when he gets into the secondary. There is some off-field issues that the Lions may want to be cautious about. Last thing we need is another Titus Young issue. But Cook has some serious upside to him with speed to run away from most defensive backs and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Foreman, the biggest back isn’t much of a receiver but is a load who can and will run over the opposition. With an average of 6.3 yards a carry and rushing for 2,028 yards, he was one of the most productive runners in the nation. Might also resolve some of the red zone issues the Lions have. With 15 touchdowns last season, Foreman knows how to get into the end zone.
My gut tells me they should draft Foreman. Lions have their slash and speed runners in both Riddick and Abdullah. Foreman would be the grinder the Lions need to have time of possession stat improve.
The other back I would love to see in Honolulu blue would be McCaffery. He just looks like he would leave it all out on the field and would take so much pressure of Stafford.
Then the Lions would have six other picks to concentrate on defense. There would be some great options for the Lions with their second pick for cornerback.
- Tre’Davious White – LSU. 5-11, 191 lbs. 4.53 40 Time
- Jalen Tabor – Florida. 6-0, 191 lbs. 4.49 40 Time
- Gareon Conley – Ohio State. 6-0, 195 lbs. 4.45 40 Time
- Cordrea Tankersley – Clemson. 6-1, 195 lbs. 4.43 40 Time
White played well in 2016. He made 35 tackles and broke up 14 passes to go along with two interceptions. He’s a good corner to run with receivers and prevent separation. He does have issues with big receivers. He can return punts so he can pack a lot of bang for the buck.
Tabor has good ball skills and has the instincts to make big plays. He also gambles and can struggle with receivers that have deep speed. However, he is very good at running the receiver’s route and prevent separation in the short to intermediate part of the field, an area where the Lions have struggled. He uses his quickness and athleticism to stay with wideouts in and out of their break which puts him in good position to drive on the ball and he breaks on the ball hard. Tabor has good hands and times his contact with receivers to lead to incompletions rather than penalties.
Conley recorded 26 tackles, broke up 8 passes and intercepted opposing quarterbacks 4 times in 2016. He is a solid defender who could go in the first round but if he is available with the Lions at 56, they might be wise to take him while they can. He has a good skill set and pairing him with Darius Slay would improve the Lions secondary nicely.
Tankersley was part of a tough cornerback duo for Clemson in 2015 when he was paired with Mackenzie Alexander. He showed impressive skills with five interceptions and nine broken passes. He was thrown at more than Alexander but he was up to the task. He followed up with four interceptions and broke up 10 passes in 2016. He has the size and skill to be a starter in the NFL and could be a steal if he is still available when the Lions pick in the 2nd round.
Lions need to improve the running game to make Stafford a much more effective and a deep passing threat. They also need to improve in the run game to not be one-dimensional. Once the Lions got pinned and had to pass, with no threat in the run game, opposing defenses went after Stafford hard. A good to great running game protects the Lions biggest asset and allows him to perform to a much higher level.
So Detroit Lions, DRAFT A DAMN RUNNING BACK!