Detroit Lions: Revisiting the 2018 draft class three years later

Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Kerryon Johnson

Position: Running Back
Selection: Round 2 / 43rd overall
Career Stats: 34 games, 16 starts, 283 carries/1225 yards, 61 receptions/527 yards, 11 total touchdowns
Contract Status: Claimed off waivers by Philadelphia Eagles on May 7th, signed through 2021

Many Lions fans got their wish when Quinn dipped into a deep running back class and took Johnson with his second selection. Unfortunately, Johnson’s stay in Detroit would be fairly brief, adding to the list of disappointing recent second-round draft picks for the team.

Johnson looked like a star in the making after a promising rookie season. Despite a knee injury that ended his season after 10 games, he led the Lions in rushing yards and flashed explosive ability as a pass-catcher as well. The star turn never materialized.

He opened his sophomore campaign as the unquestioned number one tailback, scoring touchdowns in consecutive early-season wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles. However, another knee injury suffered in a Week 7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings proved to be the beginning of his downward trajectory in Detroit.

That setback cost him eight games, and he managed just 93 total yards when he returned for the Lions’ final two games of 2019 with their season already long since lost. He was never able to regain the explosiveness that he displayed as a rookie and saw his role greatly reduced in 2020.

This past year, Johnson served primarily as a third-down back, struggling to find consistent snaps behind rookie D’Andre Swift and veteran Adrian Peterson. He stood out as a pass protector but managed just 71 total offensive touches all season, the lowest total of his career despite playing in all 16 games for the first time.

With the Lions signing tailback Jamaal Williams in free agency and drafting Jermar Jefferson in round seven last month, it seemed like Johnson’s days with the team were numbered. Sure enough, he was placed on waivers on May 5 and claimed just two days later by Philadelphia. He’ll join a crowded Eagles backfield and is no sure bet to make their opening day roster.

Johnson was a selfless team player from day one, and is young enough that he could still make an impact in the NFL should he be able to remain healthy. Still, he represents yet another cautionary tale of the risks of drafting running backs in the top-50 and the slide that many of them struggle to avoid should they suffer tough injuries early in their career.