The Rookie Running Backs
D’Andre Swift- With their first pick early in the second round, the Lions just may have landed the best running back in the entire draft. Swift graded out just slightly ahead of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, and J.K. Dobbins as the highest rated running back prospect this year.
Swift was a member of some incredibly talented backfields in his time at the University of Georgia, so he doesn’t have the same type of eye-popping college stats as guys like Dobbins or Taylor. Swift rushed for a decent 1,218 yards and 7 TD last year, far behind Taylor and Dobbins, who eerily had both identical rushing yardage and touchdowns (2,003 and 21).
Still, splitting carries in college has worked out just fine for a long line of recent Georgia running backs preceding Swift: Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb. If Swift turns some heads at training camp (if there’s a training camp), it’s not out of the question for all four of them to be starting NFL running backs at the same time. With many good backs available at the No. 35 spot (only Edwards-Helaire was off the board by that point), let’s hope the Lions grabbed the right one.
Jason Huntley- Huntley, from New Mexico State, joins the Lions with little fanfare. Huntley didn’t get an invite to the NFL Combine, but ran a 4.37 in the 40 yard dash at his pro day, which would have been the fastest among all running backs.
I take that blazing fast time with a grain of salt in some ways. Keep in mind that nearly every high school team has a guy who “runs a 4.3 in the 40”–until getting timed with a reliable clocking system at the next level and finding that it’s closer to a 4.8.
I’m teasing a little bit here, not suggesting that Huntley really runs a 4.8, but as far as being the fastest running back among all rookies next year, I’ll admit my skepticism. To run even an ‘enhanced’ 4.37 at his pro day, the guy has some serious speed.
Nonetheless, in addition to being snubbed from the Combine, Huntley was projected as either a 7th round pick or becoming an undrafted free agent. Reaching with this fifth round pick for a guy with a similar skill set, nearly exact size, and lesser talent than D’Andre Swift was a head-scratching move.
To his credit, Huntley is absolutely dynamite on kickoff returns though (5 for touchdowns in college), leading some to suggest that his impact will be more on special teams than in the backfield.
With kickoff returns being de-emphasized in the NFL, that logic is difficult for me to accept. It seems more likely that Huntley was picked because the staff believes that he can push, and possibly pass, Ty Johnson in the running back depth chart in the near future.