D’Andre Swift is finally the Lions running back to trust after years of flops since Barry Sanders retired

D’Andre Swift was the second running back off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, selected No. 35 overall by a team with a clear and pressing need at the position. Detroit’s rushing offense has ranked in the bottom-third of the league in each of the past six years. Kerryon Johnson, the Lions’ incumbent starter, averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 2019 and he’s missed 14 games due to knee issues over his two pro seasons. 

Swift, in case you somehow missed it, spent the past three years embarrassing SEC defenses. He averaged 6.6 YPC and 9.1 yards per reception in his career at Georgia, catching 73 passes and producing back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Swift’s collegiate highlights were filthy…

…and he didn’t disappoint at the pre-draft combine (60th percentile SPARQ athleticism, 4.48 speed). He has pretty much all the traits we expect from a featured back in the modern NFL, including stellar hands and advanced development as a receiver.  

[Create or join a 2020 Yahoo Fantasy Football League for free today]

And yet the fantasy community seems uninterested. We’re drafting 27 other running backs ahead of him in Yahoo leagues, including three rookies. Swift’s ADP is just 70.3. He is achingly unloved. 

Again, we’ll remind you that Swift’s prime competition for backfield touches in Detroit was a massive disappointment last year and hasn’t been able to remain on the field, suffering multiple knee injuries. If you’re willing to aggressively draft rookies Jonathan Taylor and Clyde Edwards-Helaire — brushing off accomplished veterans Marlon Mack and Damien Williams — then you should be at least as excited about Swift. 

But no, when considering the Lions’ second-round pick, fantasy managers have collectively shrugged. We’re leaving Swift for the ZeroRB crowd, an undeserved gift. 

It feels like maybe we’ve forgotten the way he clowned Alabama in the SEC title game not so long ago, finishing with 138 scrimmage yards and two scores, humiliating would-be tacklers. Swift is plenty talented. 

Detroit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell hasn’t exactly been restrained when discussing the rookie runner:

«We’re super excited to have [Swift],» Bevell said. «We feel like he’s a really talented, well-rounded running back. A guy that you can feel like can handle the run game, but as well as that, he has ability in the pass game where you can do some things with him there. So, really just a complete guy.»

[…]

«Again, super good player, super talented and I think you’re able to do a lot of things with him,» Bevell said of Swift. «He can handle as much as you want to give him.»

That was three supers and two talenteds in like six sentences, folks. Swift is going to have a significant role. He’s not going to be a full-workload back immediately in all likelihood, but no one is drafting him as such. Again, Yahoo managers are taking him outside the first five rounds.  

[2020 Draft Rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]

Detroit running backs saw 101 total targets last season (6.3 per game) and Swift’s receiving ability is one of his most impressive traits. You might recall that Matthew Stafford has a decent history of leaning on his running backs as volume receivers; he’s the man who turned Theo Riddick into a PPR legend. 

It’s also worth noting that the Lions’ offense was rolling in the first-half last year before losing its quarterback to injury. After eight games, Stafford was on pace for a 5000-yard, 38-touchdown season. He was cruising to career-highs in yards per attempt (8.6), yards per completion (13.4) and passer-rating (106.0). This team’s offense has a chance to be kinda fun in its second year under Bevell, with a fully healthy Stafford at the controls. 

Without question, Swift will be a big contributor. He may not be the favorite to lead all rookie running backs in fantasy scoring, but he should be considered much closer to CEH and Taylor than ADPs would suggest. Swift has a decent shot to produce a season that looks a fair amount like Miles Sanders‘ rookie campaign (1,327 scrimmage yards, 6 TDs). 

Nearly all of us have been burned by various Lions running backs in the post-Barry era. Perhaps it was Kevin Jones for you. Or Jahvid Best. Or Kevin Smith, or Ameer Abdullah. Or Mikel LeShoure or Joique Bell or Tatum Bell or Artose Pinner or … well, we don’t need to actually list every bad fantasy idea Detroit has given us. It’s been an uneven couple of decades. If you find it difficult to get excited by yet another Lions rusher, we get it. 

But let’s not prejudge Swift based on the sketchy recent history of this team’s backfield. He’s a huge talent with a clear path to substantial first-year snaps and touches.

Listen to the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast