The Detroit Lions made much-needed improvements on three different components on Friday. In a highly successful night, they added an explosive power back, a vicious edge rusher, and a solid guard.
The Detroit Lions pulled in a nice haul on Night 2 of the virtual draft, to say the least. Three desperate needs–running offense, pass rush, and pass protection–all received noticeable upgrades.
They have managed to accomplish this quietly; a roundup of the national media has the Lions somewhere in the A-/B+ range overall. Taken individually, however, all three of Friday’s selections could be considered steals.
Round 2, No. 35, D’Andre Swift, RB
The Lions are now fielding three SEC running backs as their primary ball carriers. First, they drafted Kerryon Johnson (from Auburn) in 2018. Then, they added Bo Scarbrough (Alabama) in November of last year. Now, with their first pick in the second round, the Lions chose D’Andre Swift, who has been a three-year standout in Georgia and is possibly the best running back in the draft.
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Swift finished his career 7th on Georgia’s list of all-time rushing yards leaders with the fewest amount of carries of anyone in the top ten. Ahead of him are active NFLers, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Todd Gurley, none of whom ran for more yards per carry.
He will compete with Johnson for the RB1 spot while alleviating some of the pressure (Johnson has been sidelined with knee injuries in both of his professional seasons).
It will be interesting to see how OC Darrell Bevell and fellow-Bulldog Matthew Stafford elect to use Swift. In addition to his rushing, Swift was also targeted over 70 times and added 5 receiving touchdowns in his time at Georgia.
Since the release of Theo Riddick last season, the Lions have not had much success with receiving backs. Should the Lions employ a two-back formation, Swift may be seen as the potential screen pass target.
Round 3, No. 67, Julian Okwara, EDGE
Like the run game, the pass rush has been another regular sore spot for the Detroit Lions. They brought in Trey Flowers, who had a typically solid season in 2019, but this did not seem to be quite enough.
They had the fifth-lowest quarterback pressures, were able to blitz on only 18% of dropbacks, and as a result, gave up the most passing yards in the league. During his four years with Notre Dame, Julian Okwara racked up 15.5 sacks in 35 games. He also added a further 24 tackles for a loss.
The Lions were able to do so with good value, too; hometown linebacker Josh Uche, for example, had a comparable career, and he went fifteen spots earlier. The Lions had already had some shake-up on defense this offseason when they released Devon Kennard.
Ideally, Okwara will make up for part of this loss and be an excellent complement to Flowers. It also doesn’t hurt to compete against his older brother, Romeo, also a defensive end.
Round 3, No. 75 (via Indianapolis), Jonah Jackson, OG
The offensive line has been an issue for the Lions and was going to continue to be one if they did not do something. Lions quarterbacks were hit 47 times in 2019 (12th most), and running backs averaged just 2.1 yards before contact (24th).
Now, neither of these statistics can be pinned solely on the offensive line, of course, but they can be partly indicative. By trading up with Indianapolis, the Lions took their second Ohio State Buckeye of the year, Jonah Jackson.
He is a strong yet slender force who should drastically improve the Lions’ pass protection. As it stands now, he will compete with either Joe Dahl or Kenny Wiggins for one of the interior guard spots.
The Lions moved from no. 85 (a pick they received in the Darius Slay trade) to 75. They also gave up nos. 149 and 182, but they got 197 back. Sure, it would have been sweeter to get the 193rd pick from the Colts, but this is splitting hairs.
The Lions did not give up much to move up, and they did not waste the pick. Instead, they improved their offensive line.
For a 3-12-1 team, there are obviously many areas that need improvement. By taking a skill position, a linebacker, and an offensive lineman, the Detroit Lions improved themselves in three diverse and distinct categories.