Can the Detroit Lions running back by committee actually work?

Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions will try the running back by committee approach. But will it succeed?

The Detroit Lions are attempting to do something they haven’t been able to do in years. And that’s to establish a consistent rushing attack. In fact, many fans likely believe the Motor City hasn’t housed a competitive running game since the days of Barry Sanders.

But going into the 2020 regular season, the Lions seemed to have given themselves the best possible chance of fielding an effective rushing attack in recent memory. And that’s due to the presence of running backs Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift.

Both players were second-round selections. Johnson was drafted back in 2018 out of Auburn. While Swift was selected 35th overall this past April out of Georgia.

And it appears Detroit will attempt a running back by committee approach this upcoming season, with both Johnson and Swift leading the charge. In fact, Kerryon is looking forward to it. Here’s what he told about the prospect of playing alongside Swift in 2020.

"“I’m excited. I can learn from him. He can learn from me. We can all learn from each other and we can all get better. … Look, I knew we were going to draft a running back eventually. I think, in my opinion, we got definitely one of the top two so I love having a running mate, I love winning games and I think he can help us do that so I wasn’t tripping at all.”"

Part of the reason the Lions drafted Swift this offseason was due to Johnson’s inability to stay healthy. Detroit’s starting running back has missed 14 games over his first two seasons in the NFL. And that left the organization with very little choice but to try to find a competent running back that’s capable of carrying the load if needed.

Can the Detroit Lions find similar success on the ground as the Ravens?

But can a running back by committee actually work? We only have to look to last season to find evidence that it can.

The Baltimore Ravens led the NFL in total rushing yards, and it wasn’t even close. The high-powered Ravens racked up an incredible 3,296 rushing yards in 2020. The next closest team was the San Francisco 49ers with 2,305 rushing yards.

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But, the Ravens’ leading rusher was actually second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson. Incredibly, the young passer recorded 1,206 yards on the ground, the sixth-highest rushing total in the league. Obviously, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will not be duplicating those numbers anytime soon.

But the more relevant part of the Ravens’ rushing success last season to Detroit was their two other rushers. Veteran running back Mark Ingram was able to also post an impressive 1,018 rushing yards himself. And his running mate, Gus Edwards, rushed for a respectable 711 yards. Ingram played 504 offensive snaps, while Edwards received 397 snaps.

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The duo of Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards recorded a total 1,729 rushing yards for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019. That’s more than 16 other NFL franchises were able to accumulate last season as a entire team, including the Detroit Lions (1,649). Based on that evidence, the running tandem of Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift has chance to be just as productive … if not more so.