The Detroit Lions haven’t had a running back rush for 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush in November 2013. They’ve already tried to address the problem by signing LeGarrette Blount earlier in the offseason, then made another move adding Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson with the 43rd pick in the draft.
Welcome to the squad, Kerryon! pic.twitter.com/wqmDkkpkuU
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) April 28, 2018
Johnson joins one of the worst running situations in the league, but that could be a positive due to opportunities available. The 2017 SEC Offensive Player of the Year ought to have every chance to lead Detroit’s backfield in 2018.
Reasons to Get Excited
On one hand, Detroit’s backfield is stocked with guys you’ve heard of. Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner have all been fantasy-relevant at some point. On the other hand, it’s not the most difficult group to beat out for playing time.
Blount is the only one of the five with a career yards-per-carry average over 3.8. He’s also 32 in December and joining his fourth team in five years. If all goes according to plan, it won’t be long before Johnson moves ahead of the pack.
We can deduce that the Lions were enamored with Johnson since they were willing to trade up to get him. They also chose him over the more highly-touted Derrius Guice. Considering this, along with what they have at the position now, it’s fair to say they intend to use him.
Yards After Contact
Johnson made things difficult for tacklers in his final season with the Tigers.
— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) April 28, 2018
He did this despite less-than-ideal size (5-foot-11, 206 pounds) and putting up the lowest bench press total (11) for a running back at the combine. He could be a monster if he manages to bulk up.
Reasons to Pump the Brakes
Football Outsiders ranked Detroit’s offensive line as the worst in the league in 2017. Granted, they did draft Arkansas center Frank Ragnow in the first round and they’re hoping new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson can get the most out of previous additions. That could happen, but it would take a massive improvement for the unit to be even average. That doesn’t inspire confidence in the Detroit running game.
Johnson turns 21 on June 30. It’s a rarity for running backs that young to succeed in the NFL, especially if they weren’t blue-chip prospects. Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley were the only running backs that young to rush for 1,000 yards in the last 10 years. Only one running back not drafted in the first round has ever rushed for 1,000 yards at 21 or younger: Clinton Portis in 2002. Johnson would be in elite company if he were successful this year.
Johnson was more of a part-time player in his first two seasons at Auburn and was fortunate to run behind a very good offensive line. It’s not like there were amazing backs ahead of him, either. The top runners he had to beat out were the undrafted Peyton Barber and Kamryn Pettway. Since the former Mr. Football was something of a late bloomer in college, the same could happen in the NFL. That would certainly hurt is 2018 prospects.
Johnson is worth rostering in the RB4-RB5 range. He has definite upside and the Lions will love it if he’s the clear-cut starter in Week 1. But offensive line issues make any Lion running back a big risk, so look at Johnson as more of a lottery ticket than a guy you can expect to start at some point.
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