Detroit Lions: Is there a training camp battle at running back?

D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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Following two straight seasons hindered by injuries, the Detroit Lions figured to address their running back position in the 2020 NFL Draft. And when their number was called early in the second round, the Lions did just that. But will there be a training camp battle at the position as a result?

More than two years ago, the Lions traded up in the 2018 draft to acquire Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson. And while Johnson’s tenure in Detroit has shown promise, back-to-back knee injuries have only allowed him to play 18 of a possible 32 games.

Having spent half the season without Johnson in the lineup last year, the Lions prioritized finding a more reliable option this offseason. And with the 35th overall selection in April’s draft, Detroit picked Georgia running back D’Andre Swift.

Touted by some as the top player at his position in his draft class, Swift figures to pair with Johnson as a rookie to make up one of the league’s top one-two punches. And his skill set as a receiver out of the backfield should also allow him to get more opportunities in his first season.

But the acquisition of Swift seemed to be an attempt to fill a need rather than trying to find a replacement for Johnson. In May, Lions head coach Matt Patricia addressed the idea that there could be a position battle at running back by asking if the title of starter mattered when one back is in on the first play and the other on the second.

It seems clear that the Lions see Johnson and Swift as an interchangeable combo rather than one being a starter and the other a reliever. Yet, that hasn’t stop outsiders from predicting the two being in stark competition with each other this summer.

Here’s what Gregg Rosenthal wrote for after ranking the Swift vs. Johnson training camp battle in his top five to watch in the NFC.

"“Swift’s skill set would have made him a top-10 pick if he played in a different era; instead, Detroit was able to snag him in the second round of April’s draft. Johnson has played like a top-20 back when he’s been on the field. He’s just struggled to stay there. Don’t tell Lions fans, but their offense should be sneaky fun to watch this season.”"

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Injuries to Kerryon Johnson forced the Detroit Lions to find themselves another running back capable of carrying the load. And they did just that with the selection of D’Andre Swift. But while the intention could be to run them both equally when the season begins, if one is clearly much better than the other, expect the Lions to go heavy with the hot hand.