2,070 total yards, 60 receptions and 25 total touchdowns. That was the production the Detroit Lions got out of the Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift backfield duo last year. That’s a fairly good production level, and an incredible number of touchdowns. However, both are gone as the Lions pursued what they see as upgrades.
The Lions went against the grain and investe heavily at running back this offseason, giving David Montgomery a three-year, $18 million deal and selectingJahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick in the draft. Having one of the league's best run games is the clear goal.
With one of the best offensive lines in the league, it’s easy to see a path to a new level for the Lions' offense with the practical (Montgomery) and still theoretical (Gibbs) upgrades in the backfield.
But what exactly does that mean for the fantasy value of the Lions’ two primary backs?
Fantasy Football 2023: Can David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs both be worthy fantasy backs?
Last season, Williams finished as the RB8 in 0.5-point PPR scoring, averaging 12.9 fantasy points per game. His league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns drove that. Swift finished as the RB22, but was hindered by injuries and he was better than that on a per-game basis.
Having two top-24 fantasy backs is a bar that won't be easy to maintain—especially given the fact that Detroit’s backfield will likely see some obvious touchdown regression this year. Even if David Montgomery were to hit 10 rushing touchdowns, that’s just 58 percent of the touchdowns Williams had in 2022.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Lions’ running backs last year was a general failure to maximize the running lanes created by the offensive line. Swift was able to do that at times (see Week 1 against the Eagles), but far too often he and Williams were unable to make a defender miss. A missed tackle not generated, or a bad read of blocks, kept plenty of decent runs from becoming bigger gains.
Can Montgomery and Gibbs do a better job of that? Yes. Montgomery was elusive and broke tackles running behind some bad Bears' offensive lines. Gibbs is pure projection right now, but based on his college tape he should excel behind the Lions offensive line--particularly on outside zone concepts.
Gibbs should be heavily featured as a receiver. It's within the realm of possibility that he pushes to 70 or 80 targets in his rookie season. Montgomery meanwhile, while not being an elite pass catcher, is more effective than Williams out of the backfield and should be able to contribute better there.
There may not be a top-10 fantasy back in Detroit's backfield this year, if only because matching last year's scoring prowess from Williams and Swift is patently unlikely to happen. But Montgomery and Gibbs can surely both finish as top-24 backs, with some tilt to PPR formats and Gibbs' ceiling there.