The Detroit Lions are in the market for running backs. D’Andre Swift is the only running back with legitimate experience currently under contract. Jermar Jefferson, a 2021 seventh-round pick, has only seen the field 36 times in his NFL career. Greg Bell, a 2022 undrafted rookie, has played zero NFL snaps. Of those three running backs, only Bell’s contract extends beyond the 2023 season.
Detroit’s rushing leader from last season is entering free agency. Jamaal Williams ran for 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns. He added another 73 yards receiving. Justin Jackson joins Williams on the free agent market. Craig Reynolds is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Lions can bring him back on a league minimum contract just by floating him an offer sheet.
With the team needing to address running back depth, recent mock drafts have tied Texas running back Bijan Robinson to the Lions with the 18th overall pick.
Robinson is the complete package. He offers a combination of power, speed and agility. He is a good receiver out of the backfield as well. Robinson projects as a feature back. He is one of the most talented prospects in this year’s draft class.
The Lions could make good use of Robinson in their offense. However, there are more pressing needs for the team at the top of the draft. Acquiring high-end defensive talent in the early rounds is a priority for Detroit. The Lions defense ranked near the bottom of the league in points given up and yardage allowed.
Robinson is a first-round talent, but recent history suggests teams can find reliable running back options in later rounds or s undrafted free agents. With more pressing needs at other positions, the Lions should avoid Robinson in the first round of the draft.
The Detroit Lions should re-sign Jamaal Williams
Williams has expressed interest in returning to the Lions for the 2023 season. The power back was initially brought in to play more of a backup rotational role. However, Swift did not live up to his second-round billing, and Williams outperformed him.
Spotrac estimates Williams’ average annual value at $4.1 million per season. That is an affordable cap hit for a starting-caliber halfback, but the 27-year-old is not likely to receive a contract longer than a year or two.
Williams is not the long-term answer at running back for the Lions. The shelf life of a running back is hard to gauge, backs usually decline as they reach their 30s. Re-signing Williams allows the Lions to keep a productive back for a year or two and allow them to kick the can down the road in search of a long-term starter.
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