In what has been a historically awful streak, the Detroit Lions are set to finally address the running game this offseason. Former head coach Jim Caldwell relied upon the pieces that had been there the last few years, which I admire, but nothing ever seemed to transpire with the combo of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner. One of these backs was either hurt or inactive every game, so we never truly saw the three-headed monster that this backfield could have become.
Despite Caldwell’s efforts, it would be shocking to see Detroit’s management leave the run game as it is. The free agent market is probably as about as subpar as it could get in terms of what the Lions are looking for, but it may be the first place the team looks to fill the gaps.
Here are three free agent running backs that could solve all the problems for the Lions’ running game.
There is not one free agent running back under the age of 25 this offseason, making it difficult for the Lions to find a true franchise back, but aside from Le’Veon Bell, Carlos Hyde is as close as they are going to get.
Carlos Hyde spent the first four years of his career with San Fransisco 49ers, amassing over 2,700 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns. His talent can really only be seen in his last two seasons, where he topped 900 rushing yards consecutively and reached almost 2,500 scrimmage yards.
While Hyde didn’t really start to develop until 2017, his ceiling is incredibly high. He posses many traits that running backs usually only have one or two of. He can run in between and outside the tackles, using his quickness to burst through the gap. He is also no stranger to contact, as Hyde also has the ability to put his head down and run through his defenders. He is shifty and crafty as well, adding elusiveness to his arsenal.
The Ohio State product will be looking for franchise money and Detroit has all the money in the world for him (2nd most cap space this offseason). It is rumored he may be on John Lynch‘s chopping block and Matthew Stafford would love a new weapon like Hyde, who also caught 86 passes in the last two seasons.
Hyde has the greatest chance for a long career out of any of the free agent options and has all the skills to be an every-down back. If the 49ers fail to re-sign him, the Lions would be fools not to lure him to the Motor City.
Hyde will earn a total $922,047 for the last year of his rookie contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
LeGarrette Blount might be one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL. Blount ranks 11th in touchdowns among active running backs (53) and has 28 total touchdowns over the last three seasons. He is the perfect example of a power back with a good motor, someone that can’t be stopped once they get going.
Blount has bounced around the league, playing for four teams over his eight-year career. He is most notably recognized for his two stints in New England where he helped the Patriots win their fifth super bowl. All-in-all, Blount is 31 years old and is likely on his way to another team after this season. It looked as if he would be a go-to back in Philidelphia this season, but the arrival of former Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi changed that.
He will be looking for a short contract that gives him a big role. Enter the Lions. Like I previously stated, Detroit has the money for anyone they want. Signing Blount would be backed by a win-now mentality, but that isn’t such a bad thing. Matthew Stafford is in his prime and waiting around for a running back to develop could prove fatal. Blount still has the ability to bowl over defenders and make a big impact on offense. His most important asset is his ability to score. Even though Blount has averaged 4.4 yards per attempt and 50.8 yards per game for his career, who cares about his yards?
Blount gets touchdowns and that is all the Lions should care about. Let Stafford dink and dunk down the field every drive then just hand it off. This option would certainly help boost Detroit’s red zone offense, which was dreadful last season. The running back that the team acquires does not need to be a multi-tool guy, he could be a guy like Blount that has immense power and good inside vision. On top of it all, he brings a great hard-nosed mentality that would fit right in.
Blount will earn a total $1,250,000 this year and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Like I said, there isn’t a whole lot going on in the free agent market this season in terms of franchise backs.
Jerick McKinnon certainly comes last and least on this list and would hopefully be a last minute decision pickup.
He did not start to gain any actual notoriety as a consistent back until he had a stretch of impressive games this year. In total, McKinnon racked up 570 yards five touchdowns, and 51 receptions in 2017. In his four year career, he has 1,918 rushing yards, 12 total touchdowns, 984 receiving yards, and 2,902 scrimmage yards.
McKinnon has had to split his time with an array of other backs in his time in Minnesota, but even when given the starting nod, he has been average at best. He has a good burst of speed and can run through contact, but often displays the same attributes as Ameer Abdullah. He can’t ever get anything really going.
Whether this is due to the offensive line or not, McKinnon works in a two or three back set, but I doubt he could carry the load of a true franchise back. This is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
McKinnon will earn a total $700,000 this year and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Dion Lewis (Age 27) – New England Patriots
Previous Contract- Two years, $2,600,000
Career Stats- 1,584 rushing yards, 2,301 scrimmage yards, 15 total touchdowns, 717 receiving yards, and 4.8 yards per attempt.
Jeremy Hill (Age 25) – Cincinnati Bengals
Previous Contract- 4 years, $3,753,602
Career Stats- 2,873 rushing yards, 3,357 scrimmage yards, 30 total touchdowns, 484 receiving yards, 3.1 yards per attempt, 85.2 catch completion percentage.
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