It didn’t seem to be up for much debate, but Pro Football Focus has confirmed how much the Detroit Lions upgraded their running back room this offseason.
For how much Jamaal Williams was a fan favorite and a team leader for the Detroit Lions, there’s no denying David Montgomery is a talent upgrade and not much of a culture downgrade (if at all, in further hindsight). As pivot options went, if Williams was going to leave in free agency, Montgomery was hard to see coming.
D’Andre Swift’s future in Detroit was tenuous going into the offseason, entering the final year of his contract and with an extension not coming. Trading him seemed possible, then the Lions alerted the rest of the NFL they were doing it ASAP when they drafted Jahmyr Gibbs No. 12 overall last month.
Leaving aside the question mark attached to using that premium of a pick on Gibbs, there’s no denying his talent level. If can simply stay healthier than Swift managed to over the last couple seasons, lined up for a similar role in the Lions offense, he’s an upgrade.
PFF confirms the Detroit Lions upgraded their running back room this offseason
Our own Zach Payne planted a flag showing the Lions did upgrade their backfield this offseason, and it’s hard for anyone who’s not a hard-core Williams or Swift truther to argue against it. Now we have more confirmation.
Pro Football Focus recently named their most improved running back rooms in the NFL following free agency and the draft. Assuming a ranked order, the Lions are No. 2 of the four.
"The Lions moved on from their top two running backs in Jamaal Williams and Swift. While Williams led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns last season, he averaged just 4.1 yards per carry, which ranked only 32nd in the league, and also had limitations in the passing game, as he ranked 87th out of 89 running backs with a PFF receiving grade of 39.7.The first move in replacing Williams and Swift was for Detroit to sign David Montgomery in free agency. Although Montgomery has been only average in his last two seasons in Chicago, he flashed ability earlier in his career when he earned an 80.2 PFF grade in 2020. The Lions hope Montgomery can find his old form behind an offensive line that projects to be better than anything Montgomery has seen in his four seasons with the Bears.However, what puts Detroit on this list is not necessarily the addition of Montgomery but drafting Jahmyr Gibbs, the second-best running back in the 2023 NFL Draft, instead. Whether it was good value for the Lions to draft a running back that early in the draft can be up for debate; however, Gibbs’ talent cannot be questioned. While Gibbs presents an improvement as a runner as well, his receiving ability out of the backfield is something that Detroit has been missing in recent years."
To the last line about receiving ability of the backfield being something the Lions have been missing in recent years, I would add “on a consistent basis.” Swift was a very good pass catching back and a real weapon in that area. He just wasn’t available, or not dealing with some kind of injury, nearly enough. The Lions were fairly openly frustrated by that, so now he’s gone.
The Lions had a fairly good top running back duo last season. But they absolutely upgraded one spot, and there’s a strong early argument they upgraded the other spot too.