Many see Detroit Lions’ running backs Ty Johnson and rookie Jason Huntley competing for the same role in 2020. But I don’t see that way. Here’s why …
The Detroit Lions did a little double-dip in the running back pool in the 2020 NFL Draft. After their high-profile selection of D’Andre Swift in the second round, they went back for seconds with a fifth-round pick of New Mexico State’s running back Jason Huntley.
With another two valuable draft resources spent on the backfield (they also drafted two backs in 2018 in Kerryon Johnson and Nick Bawden), it has many wondering how many bodies the Lions plan on keeping in that running back room this season and who would be the odd men out.
The most common in-out scenario among fans and pundits is between 2019 sixth-round pick Ty Johnson or 2020 fifth-rounder, Huntley. They are thought to have very similar skill sets due to their fast 40-times at their pro-days and smaller statures.
But are the two speedsters really competing for the same roles? I don’t see it that way. Yes, they’re both smaller speed-backs. But they played different roles in college and I project will play even more different roles in the NFL.
At Maryland, Johnson played a total of 43 games with 29 receptions. While Huntley at New Mexico State played a total of 46 games with 134 receptions. Matter of fact, Huntley was the only running back in the 2020 draft class with more than 1,000 receiving yards.
While Huntley was New Mexico State he was used as a traditional half-back, I don’t see that being the case at the next level. Instead, I see the Lions using him as a slot receiver or gadget pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Ty Johnson, on the other hand, is more of a traditional running back and proved he can handle running up the middle last season with a 4.3 average per rush on 63 attempts. Which was actually higher than Kerryon Johnson (3.6) and Bo Scarbrough (4.2).
According to his pro-day measurements, Huntley is 5-foot-8, 190 pounds. Whereas Johnson stands a bit more sturdy at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds.
There’s only one NFL RB from 2019 who was both shorter and lighter than Huntley and only four that were lighter. This will prevent him from being any real consistent threat for any traditional running back duties like Johnson, and should keep him in the space roles where he can shine.
The only area I do see them possibly competing is for return duties, but Detroit still has the former All-Pro return man in Jamal Agnew, so I’m not sure how relevant either will be in the return game if he returns to form.
The 2020 rookies bring the Lions total number of half-backs up to six (including two fullbacks) for the 90-man before cutting down to the final 55. Last season, Detroit kept four half-backs on the initial Week One 53-man roster (Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson, and J.D. McKissic). I believe this year they could keep either five (assuming they list Huntley as an RB) and keep one less at another position.
One of the other positions the Lions could cut back on is fullback Nick Bawden, as tight end Isaac Nauta could fill that role if he makes the team. But seeing how I’m projecting Huntley for more of a wide receiver role, I’m looking at a Marvin Hall-type as the true competition for Huntley making the roster over a running back.