The Running Back Case Files

The 2020 RB class will be talked about as one of the deepest classes, right alongside 2017’s star-studded group. Going into their sophomore seasons, there are a few questions about each of the backs going forward. Some have to answer how their role will develop after a fine start to their career, and others are dealing with a key player or personnel changes in year two. The hardest question is going to be where to rank these guys in re-draft and dynasty leagues going forward with a bit of uncertainty surrounding them. This Running Back Case File series will take a look at 2020’s big 5 (before the season) of Taylor, Akers, Swift, Dobbins, and CEH. These were the players that went at the top of rookie drafts in 2020. We expect great things with that kind of capital spent. Will these guys have enough juice to make a case to be RB1’s in 2021? And what challenges will they face?



 D’Andre Swift Vs. 2021


The Case For Swift…

D’Andre Swift was selected at the start of round 2 of the 2020 NFL draft. He was the second running back off the board, only three picks behind CEH. In his time in Georgia, he put up a career stat-line of 440 carries for 2885 and 20 TDs. Swift also was a contributor in the passing game with 73 receptions for 666 yards and 5TDs. Out of the top 5 rookies at RB in 2020 ADP, Swift had the 2nd fewest college touches behind only CEH. This was due to Georgia’s crowded running back room during Swift’s tenure as a Bulldog. He was the consensus RB1 in rookie drafts before the combine and draft shook things up. The talent has always been there and was on full display towards the end of the season.


Coming from Georgia, Swift competed with guys like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, yet still managed to put up 600 yards. He was electric from the moment he got on campus. Surprisingly split carries with Elijah Holyfield, but again produced to the tune of 1000 yards in that campaign. It seems like no matter what opportunity he was given in the backfield, D’Andre Swift shined. He was a decent producer in the opportunities he got right out of the gate with the Lions, scoring double-digit fantasy points on an average of 8 touches per game to start the season.



Following the theme of the other rookies, it was after the bye week that the Lions decided to cut the reins loose a bit more. He was named the starter in week 6 following the week of rest. After that, he shined in the 8 out of 9 games he played. In those 8 games, he received more than 10 touches, averaging 17.5 ppg in PPR, and eclipsed 20 fantasy points three times. That puts him up among the top 12 in that stretch. The move to Duce Staley is a good sign for Swift as well. Before leaving the eagles he preached feeding Miles Sanders the ball 20+ times per game and started to try, but Sanders didn’t hold up. He still averaged 18 total opportunities (targets and carries) per game with the Eagles in 2020. Swift would become a shoo-in for top 10 production if this trend carries over into Detroit.


The “For” Closing Arguments For The Running Back Case Files…

The depth chart should not be a problem for Swift. The Lions committed a 2-year contract to Jamaal Williams out of Green Bay. Williams has shown he can be serviceable in the passing game, but not all that exciting otherwise. This came before the release of former 2nd rounder Kerryon Johnson, who just could not stay on the field long enough early in his career to show what he can do. The lack of receiving options in Detroit should ensure plenty of work on the ground and through the air for Swift in 2021. Adding Penei Sewell was the real surprise of the offseason for Detroit, who fits the mold of Detroit’s “knee-cap biting” philosophy. This bodes well for Detroit’s 13th overall offensive line grade from PFF in 2020. Do not be surprised if they finish as one of the best O-lines in the NFL in 2021.



The Case against Swift

Swift may be on one of the teams with the larger volume of work going into 2021. The Lions are not projected for more than a handful of wins this coming season. As a result, Jared Goff and company will be in a lot of game-scripts where check-downs and short-yardage throws are king. The depth chart is not all that scary from a talent standpoint, but newly signed Jamaal Williams is no slouch.


Finding a competent backup to D’Andre Swift was a top priority for the Lions. Williams has been one of the more underrated backup running backs in his 4 years in the NFL. His pass protection has earned him more and more opportunities each season. He has consistently been graded as one of the top running backs in the league by PFF in the last 3 seasons. This fact alone could sap some value away from Swift. Protecting Jared Goff at the end of games when the team falls behind would be a top priority. Williams had the best catch rate among RBs last year as well, catching 89% of passes thrown his way. Swift is top 15 in this category as well. He also joins Williams in being among the top 15 in yards per reception. There is a sense that the Lions know what type of running back they will need in this offense. We can’t discount the fact that they went out and signed Williams to a multi-year deal.


Even if Swift holds off Williams for most of the touches, he will have to improve on making defenders miss. Swift was 54th in evaded tackles and 62nd in Juke Rate according to Playerprofiler. This was all with an average of just 7 players in the box which was 24th among running backs. With Jared Goff behind center, and the lack of threats behind Hockenson in the passing game, defenses are going to be more apt to load the box and pressure this offense.


The hope is that the coaching staff calls on Swift more and more often as the season progresses. If he can up his routes run, which was 24th in the league, and make defenders miss he is a lock for top 12 production. Over the last 10 years, there has been an average of two top-15 running backs coming from the bottom eight scoring offenses in the league. The key is going to be volume. With a new coaching staff, and tendencies unknown it will be a guessing game as far as how the passing work is split up.


The “Against” Closing Arguments For The Running Back Case Files…

Ultimately, talent should win out in this backfield. Jamaal Williams will be serviceable to spell Swift and help out in blocking. He will have 40 targets or so in this offense, but Swift will be the main attraction in Detroit. If we are looking at that last stat, I can’t see another running back that I like more that is on what projects to be a dreadful offense. Who knows, maybe Jared Goff surprises us and gets these guys clicking. Regardless of how “high-octane” this offense is there will be plenty of opportunity for D’Andre Swift to feast early in games. If the team struggles, garbage time at the end of the game could be a positive thing for Swift. Fantasy points are fantasy points, it does not matter what part of the game they come in.

Jordan DiGiovanni
Follow me on Twitter: @FFdynastyDG

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