After transforming their running back room through free agency and the draft, how much better has the Detroit Lions backfield gotten?
Going into the offseason, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who expected the Detroit Lions’ running hack room to change. Jamaal Williams, though an unrestricted free agent, had just come off a record-breaking campaign and all indications were both sides wanted to continue together. D’Andre Swift was still under contract for another year. Everything was set for the Lions to run it back with the same crew in 2023.
However, Detroit was unable to come to terms with Williams. Instead, they opted to bring in David Montgomery on a three-year deal. In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Lions also shocked the football world by selecting Jahmyr Gibbs No.12 overall. That pick officially put the writing on the wall for Swift, and he was traded to the Eagles on Day 3 of the draft.
After the surprising overhaul of the running back room, the question that has come up is how much better did Detroit’s backfield get? Did it get better at all?
Did the Detroit Lions upgrade their running back depth chart?
On the surface, it can be difficult to say the Lions have upgraded their running back room. Williams had a career year last year. And Lions fans are well aware of the unique big play potential Swift brought to the offense.
That being said, it’s easy to predict regression for Williams. The Lions ended up in goal-to-go situations with unique frequency last season. As a result, Williams got a lot of carries inside the 5-yard line and his high touchdown total followed.
As for Swift, there was an ever-growing frustration with him. When he was on the field fully healthy, he was a truly dynamic player who altered what the Lions could do offensively. The issue was how infrequently that version of Swift was available. Injuries have plagued Swift’s young career, and remain the biggest obstacle he needs to overcome.
Additionally, there was also an ongoing struggle with consistency for most of last season. There were several instances per game where Swift would get caught trying too hard to make people miss instead of taking the yards available. Instances where the lateral movement was prioritized too much instead of getting north-south.
Another issue with both Swift and Williams last season was an inability to break tackles. Detroit has one of the best offensive lines in the league, opening up lanes to the second level to make it easy for the top two backs.
Enter the Lions’ new duo of Montgomery and Gibbs. Starting with Montgomery, who gained a reputation in Chicago for always running hard and generating more yards than the defense would give him.
Montgomery will replace Williams as the “thunder” presence in the Lions backfield. He isn’t always going to rattle off explosive runs, but he will take what the offensive line creates, and do a better job and pushing for more at the second level. He is also a more complete back than Williams, and the Bears underutilized him in the passing game.
As for the “lightning” part, that’s going to be where Gibbs fits in. With 4.36 speed and an ability to make people miss in space, the rookie is going to be the big-play threat Swift was–and maybe even better.
While some will say there’s not much difference in replacing Williams and Swift with Montgomery and Gibbs, it’s also become clear the national view on Swift is far different than how the Lions and those who closely follow the Lions view him.
Ultimately, Montgomery is a better back than Williams and the difference between Gibbs and Swift could be close to a wash (perhaps at worst in the latter case). If both backs stay healthy, Detroit should seamlessly have one of the best offenses in the NFL again in 2023.