Now that the 2020 NFL Draft has come to a close, it’s time to break down some of the players and how they fit with the teams that selected them. Starting with Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions, they’ve taken a total of five running backs under Quinn’s questionable regime. He’s moved up for running backs such as Kerryon Johnson but two years later, he spends another second round pick on the same position. Even though I have my questions in regards to Quinn’s thought processing, D’Andre Swift is far and away the best running back he’s taken as the general manager of the Lions.
Throughout the draft process, I said that the Lions don’t need to find a complement to Johnson but instead a running back for Johnson to complement. There’s a chance that it could happen but only time will tell. During Swift’s time at Georgia, he averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 440 carries and gained 2,885 rushing yards. Let’s jump into some film and see how his new vision can help the Detroit Lions establish a consistent rushing attack.
Starting with his ability as a pass catcher, Swift had 73 receptions during his tenure with the Bulldogs. He added over 650 yards and five touchdowns. It’s clear that his ability in the passing game will be something the Lions utilize at the next level.
Going back to Swift’s performance against Tennessee in 2018, here’s an example of what he provides as a pass catcher. He runs out on a flat route and once the ball hits his hands, he quickly throttles down and cuts upfield to juke a defender in space. As he works his way up field, he jukes out another defender and starts to make his way up the “sidewalk” (sideline).
In the process, he changes the ball between his hands properly by switching the ball from his right hand to his left hand. By carrying it in his left hand, he’s making it harder for defenders to punch the ball out of his hands and if they do, there’s better chance of it going out of bounds rather than laying in the middle of the field.
Once again, we get a catch from Swift against Tennessee but this time, it’s from the 2019 season. He catches the ball in the open field after running to the flats and then explodes upfield. He ends a few yards short of the end-zone but this is a simple catch and run after-the-catch for positive yardage.
Lastly, we stay with the Tennessee game from the 2019 season. Swift runs a wheel route and as he gets up the sideline, there’s broken coverage and the Bulldogs take advantage of that. Now the pass is a bit under thrown and Swift has to wait for the ball but if Stafford is making this throw, I think there’s a good chance we see even more yardage gained or the possibility of a touchdown.
Spinning out of trouble
According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), Swift had 613 yards after contact for the 2019 season. That’s a good number to see considering that he only had 1,218 rushing yards on the season. Meanwhile, he had 19 broken tackles, which was good for a 20.9 broken tackle percentage. As you watch him, you can see a strong leg drive and contact balance needed to break tackles but he’s also got a natural feel to get through and out of trouble.
On the play above, Swift takes the handoff on a split-zone run and he’s aiming to hit the B-gap. With the cornerback flying up field, Swift has no choice but to get through that B-gap for any type of positive yardage. With his strong lower body, he spins through an arm-tackle and gets through and up to the second level. He churns forward for more additional yardage for a first down.
Looking at the play above, it looks like an inside zone run and despite the Auburn defense penetrating deep into the backfield, Swift makes the most out of it. With a defender almost meeting him through the exchange, Swift spins out of danger and explodes upfield where he’s able to pickup a first down. This is a strong asset for him to have as he’ll have to create something out of nothing at the next level.
Vision upfield and picking up first downs
During the 2019 season, Swift gained 58 first downs when running the football (per SIS). This translates to having a first down percentage of 29.6 for his carries last year. Comparing him to other top backs in the 2020 NFL Draft class, he is ranked behind other backs such as Clyde Edwards-Helaire (36.3%), Jonathan Taylor (33.4%), J.K. Dobbins (33.2%) and Zack Moss (31.6%). Fortunately for Swift, all of them had over 200 carries and he only had 196 carries so with more work, he could be even more effective.
One thing I’ve noticed with Swift is that he has a tendency to start his runs laterally. However, he’s got the vision and accelerator needed off his one-cut to get upfield and pickup first downs or more. On the run above, you can see him running towards the sideline but he’s reading the linebacker (#6) who is the force defender. If the linebacker plays outside-in (which he does on the play), then Swift can cut up on the inside of the tight end. That’s exactly what happens on the play above. Swift shows the burst needed to cut upfield and the speed needed to outrun the edge rusher (Khalid Kareem #53) before making that cut.
Lastly, it’s a draw play ran by Georgia and it’s Swift that gets the ball. Once he breaks through the LOS, he shows good burst at the second level. But the difference maker is that he makes a decisive cut on a safety to leave him in the dust as he almost breaks free for a touchdown. Unfortunately, he gets tripped up but seeing this type of explosiveness off his cuts upfield is a common theme from the talented back.
Over the years we’ve seen multiple running backs drafted from Georgia. From Todd Gurley and Sony Michel to Nick Chubb. Now we have Swift who has spent time splitting a backfield with Elijah Holyfield in 2018 and Brian Herrien during the 2019 season. However, it’s clear that Swift was the starter and rightfully so, he was far and away the best back he split time with.
After the 2020 NFL Draft, Swift was the 35th overall pick by the Detroit Lions and it’s clear there’s going to be high expectations for him. He’s the highest drafted running back in the Lions organization since Jahvid Best was the 30th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. Most importantly, he’s the highest selected running back of the Quinn era. We should see Johnson and Swift complement each other well but it should be Swift that ultimately takes control of the Lions backfield. One of the ways he can do that is by staying healthy but keep in mind, he battled through a shoulder injury late in the 2019 season.
With a limited amount of touches compared to other backs in the 2020 NFL Draft, Swift has an opportunity to really prove himself. Despite not being my top ranked running back, his best football should be in front of him. He can provide the Lions with a three-down back presence that they need due to the accelerator he has after he cuts upfield. It’s clear that the Lions backfield got better after the 2020 NFL Draft and a lot of that is in part of the new vision they have with Swift.