Detroit Lions: 3 depth running backs to consider signing

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions have a variety of options when it comes to adding a depth running back before the start of the 2021 NFL season.

General Manager (GM) Brad Holmes quickly addressed the need early on in free agency, adding a runner the organization is very familiar with.  The Detroit Lions signed former Green Bay Packers backup Jamaal Williams to a two-year deal worth $7 million after he was made available.

Green Bay opted to re-up their star tailback Aaron Jones, which led the often frugal, especially on offense; (ask Aaron Rodgers) Packers to allow Williams to walk in free agency.

Williams is the whole package; he’s a three-down runner that will be a valuable asset to the Detroit Lions behind D’Andre Swift.  I expect Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to use both the teams’ top backs early and often in his rush-heavy offense.

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The Lions will also see Kerryon Johnson return for the final year of his rookie contract as the third back.  He carries plenty of value in this role as a third-down back, where he excelled last season as a pass protector.  Johnson can also chip in when he’s asked as both a runner and receiver.

I feel the Detroit Lions will need to add another reliable back before the start of the 2021 NFL season.  The organization has plenty of options, whether it’s selecting a running back in the upcoming draft, or signing a current free agent, or signing someone after the draft, either an undrafted rookie or bringing in someone with experience who is cut.

Here are three ‘cheap’ free agents the Detroit Lions need to consider bringing in before the draft.

The Detroit Lions should target veteran back T.J. Yeldon.

T.J. Yeldon is a 28-year old free agent that never lived up to his second-round draft potential.  The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted the Alabama product with the 36th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.  After spending four years with the Jaguars, the dual-threat runner spent the last two years on the Buffalo Bills depth chart.

After seeing the majority of his success as a third-down back amassing 3,174 total yards with the Jaguars, Yeldon struggled to find that same production with the Bills totaling just 279 yards over the last two seasons.

Yeldon’s best year came as a rookie when he totaled 720 rushing yards. With the Jaguars, he totaled 2,005 rushing yards and six touchdowns, plus corraled 171 passes for 1,302 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

The Lions should consider taking a flier on Yeldon as the team’s fourth back, who can be productive in Lynn’s offense when called upon.  He can also help reinforce the position, likely making just the league minimum in 2021.

The Detroit Lions should consider bringing in Brian Hill.

The Atlanta Falcons had initially drafted Brian Hill in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft with the 156th overall pick.

As a rookie, Hill spent time with Atlanta before moving on to Cincinnati, where he rarely contributed.  Hill returned to Atlanta in 2018, where he spent the last three seasons as a depth back.

Hill saw an increased workload in each of the past three seasons and filled in nicely last season when needed behind Todd Gurley and Ito Smith.

The 25-year old back accumulated a career-high 100 carries in 2020, averaging 4.7 yards per tote plus added 25 receptions for 199 yards.  Hill can aid the Lions on special teams, there is plenty of tread left on his tires, and he’s someone that provides value down the depth chart.

The Detroit Lions should invite Bryce Love to training camp this summer.

I’m fairly optimistic, but I hope by the summer of 2021, we as a society are back to normal, and the NFL can begin its training camp in July as usual.

Bryce Love remains a running back with a plethora of questions but perhaps some potential.  Love was recently placed on waivers by the Washington Football Team and, despite earning next to nothing ($780,000), cleared.

This begs the question, will Love ever fully recover from the torn ACL he suffered in the final game of his college career?

Although Washington drafted Love, he has not appeared in a football game since the injury, which suggests he hasn’t fully recovered from the injury, and it’s going on three years now.

The 23-year old had been a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 2017, but after enjoying a tremendous career at Stanford, his future in football is certainly in jeopardy.

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To me, there is no harm in giving a kid who rushed for 3,865 yards and 30 touchdowns in college one final look throughout the summer with a non-guaranteed salary.