Detroit Lions: Running back position getting little attention this offseason

Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

The offseason has brought a slew of new free agents to the Detroit Lions roster, but running back is one position that hasn’t seen an addition … yet.

The Detroit Lions have signed, and traded for, a slew of players since the start of the new league year and free agency. While many positions on the roster were expected to be addressed in some way, shape or form, one position hasn’t seen much action. And it was a position that came out of the 2019 season with a black eye.

The Lions haven’t added a running back. They’ve lost running back J.D. McKissic to the Washington Redskins, which is a bit of a surprise since he’s a restricted free agent and was brought in due to the familiarity with Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. But with McKissic leaving town, that leaves Detroit with one less option to run the ball.

The reason this position needs some sort of attention, either with the remaining free agents or in the NFL Draft, is because of the history. With starting running back Kerryon Johnson hitting the bench due to injury in each of the past two seasons, it doesn’t show much confidence that he will remain healthy for the entire upcoming season.

Johnson has started only seven games each of the past two years, so you know what you’re getting with him in terms of playing time. It would be considered an outlier if he started all 16 games this season, especially noting that he’s only played in 18 games over the past two seasons combined. Now, everyone hopes he stays healthy and shreds defenses for the Lions, but the history suggests otherwise.

In Johnson’s absence last year, running backs Ty Johnson, Bo Scarbrough and Wes Hills – along with McKissic – filled the gap. Ty Johnson started one game and posted 273 yards on the season with zero touchdowns. Scarbrough started five games and posted 377 yards for the year with one touchdown. And Hills started one game where he put up 21 yards and two touchdowns.

The math on that doesn’t look so good for the backups to the starting Johnson. Knowing Johnson averages less than a season as the starter, these Detroit Lions need to think hard about whether or not they are happy with the players they have at the running back position right now. And, no matter what they think of the patchwork of players they have behind Johnson, they should add another body.

Former Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is at the top of the list of available players. Bringing a veteran player in with this young squad might be helpful. And it’s interesting because less than a year ago the Lions tried to make a trade to bring Freeman to Detroit. Now, he’s on the market. And for a favorable price, he could help this Lions team.

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If the Lions remain stagnant at the running back position for the next couple of weeks, the draft will play a part in fortifying the position. And these Detroit Lions might use a pick on a running back by the third round if a player they like is on the board. Given the history of the position on this team, that really shouldn’t be a surprise.