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D'Andre Swift, Lions

Why D’Andre Swift could be the best Lions running back since Barry Sanders

After a stand-out performance as part of a dominant win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions rookie running back D’Andre Swift is at the top of most fantasy football Week 6 recap pages.

It’s rather unusual for a Detroit Lions running back to be the hot name that savvy fantasy football managers will look to add from the waiver wire, especially because the Lions’ running game been barely mediocre for the majority of the 21st century.

Swift’s performance on Sunday was that Lions fans haven’t been used to seeing since the retirement of Barry Sanders in 1999. The former Georgia Bulldog scored twice and racked up 116 yards on the ground, marking only the 12th time since 2009 that a Lions rusher has surpassed triple digits.

A large portion of Swift’s production on Sunday came from a 54-yard carry, where Swift used his shiftiness in the backfield to find the whole before turning on the jets and speeding away from defenders in a way that few Lions running backs have.

 

On that run, the longest of any Lions players this season or last, Swift topped out at 20.7 miles per hour, the fastest speed of any NFL player at the time on Sunday according to Next Gen Stats.

That long run was part of an eye-opening performance that doesn’t happen much for Lions running backs, as the last time a Lions rookie rushed for 100 yards and multiple touchdowns in one game was Barry Sanders in 1989.

Swift has been a part of a crowded Lions backfield and has struggled to find the field at times, as in the first Lions win of the season, Swift only saw the field on six plays.

With Adrian Peterson being used as the starting, between-the-tackles back and Kerryon Johnson getting a lot of third down snaps because he’s the best pass protector out of the trio, it’s been hard for Swift to carve out a role for himself.

Dominant performances like this one should make Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell re-consider Swift’s role, as after 100-plus yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries, Swift should see more carries in weeks to come.

Lions have skeptical of Swift since his first game, when he unfortunately dropped what would have been the game-winning catch to beat the Chicago Bears in Week 1.

Lions fans have a right to be skeptical about everything they have seen from running backs in recent years. Before Kerryon Johnson posted his first 100-yard rushing game in 2018, Detroit had previously gone nearly 1,800 days without a 100-yard rusher, a drought dating back to Thanksgiving in 2013.

After being ranked towards the bottom of league in rushing for the past decade, the Lions so many resources on improving their running game, with a shaky record of using top draft picks on running backs (Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, Jahvid Best) and offensive linemen (Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker, Laken Tomlinson).

After Swift’s dominant performance, it looks the running game for the Lions is finally heading in the right direction. Swift has the potential to be the best running back Matthew Stafford has ever played with.

Stafford has never had a consistent running  game to help in on offense, but Swift might be able to help lighten Stafford’s offensive load with his production.

“It’s awesome,” Stafford said of Swift’s performance Sunday. “Obviously I thought the guys up front did a great job of opening holes, and he was hitting them with authority, making guys miss, running people over. He did a nice job.”

With how putrid the team’s running game has been in past years, Lions fans have a right to think this is a fluke. It didn’t come against one of the worst defenses in football and a franchise in Jacksonville who looks to moving toward another rebuild.

If Swift can manage to replicate this performance a few more times this season, he can elevate the Lions’ offense and keep the team’s playoff hopes.

The last Lions running back that Detroit fans could say that about was Sanders. Swift will likely never pass the Hall of Famer in terms of production, but he gives Lions fans a sense of optimism in the running game for the first time since Barry left.