The Lions looked like they had the makings of a fine complementary tandem at the top of their running back rotation to begin 2019, with Kerryon Johnson looking to build off of a promising rookie season and C.J. Anderson hoping to provide a solid power element to the unit. Like so many of the Lions’ position groups in 2019, it just wasn’t to be.
Johnson got off to a slow start, seeing his yards per attempt drop below four and struggling to break any long runs before suffering a knee injury in Week 7. He would miss the next eight games, a troubling development after he was shelved for the final six contests of his rookie season, also with a knee injury.
Johnson did return to the lineup for the final two games of the season, an important step for him in showing that he could overcome injuries, though his durability has to be concerning for the Lions moving forward. Johnson did lead the team in rushing for the second straight year, but it remains highly questionable at this point whether he can be counted on to be available for a full season.
For the second year in a row, the Lions whiffed in their attempt to land an integrative power back. Anderson was supposed to be that player but looked out of shape and less than powerful in his short stint in Michigan. The Lions cut bait after two games and 16 carries.
Once the middle of the season came around, the Lions were scrambling to find someone, anyone who could keep their running game afloat. Rookie Ty Johnson, as well as experienced players Paul Perkins, Tra Carson and J.D. McKissic, were all given their shot, with less-than-stellar results.
Give the Lions credit for picking Bo Scarbrough off of the scrap heap. The former seventh-round selection from 2018 was finally able to make his NFL debut in Week 11 and wound up finishing with 377 yards on 89 attempts. He’s not the quickest back and gets hit behind the line of scrimmage too often, but he rarely goes down on first contact and makes his mark on early downs. He is firmly in the mix for the Lions in 2019.
Fullback Nick Bawden struggled in ten games before being lost for the season with a knee injury, after missing his entire rookie year with a torn ACL. The Lions were again forced to go with a committee at lead blocker for the rest of the season. Bad injury luck aside, Bawden can’t be relied upon and could be replaced.
In an era when elite passing games are so heavily valued, a consistent rushing attack proved to be a major difference-maker across the NFL in 2019. Consider that of the ten teams this season with the most rushing yards, seven made the playoffs, and only one of the teams with the fewest were postseason qualifiers. Though it’s doesn’t all fall on the tailbacks’ shoulders, it’s a major factor, and the Lions fell well short here again this year.