Unsurprisingly, D’Andre Swift came off of the board very early on Day 2 of the NFL Draft to the Lions at 35 overall. Detroit has been searching for a running mate for Kerryon Johnson and GM Bob Quinn said post-draft that he views Swift as a “different type of back” than Johnson and that both “complement each other well.” HC Matt Patricia and OC Darrell Bevell have both signaled they want to have at least two backs heavily involved in their offense and now, on paper, they have a talented tandem in Swift and Johnson.
Before we get into the possible fantasy ramifications of a Lions backfield by committee for 2020 and beyond, let’s take a look at how D’Andre Swift fared in yards created.
After studying Swift, it was abundantly clear that he can win in all three phases -- on the ground, as a receiver, and as a protector.
Swift is a highly polished sustaining runner that showed a consistent ability to create yards on his own. Swift created five or more yards on 34% of his carries last year and that efficient clip puts him in a similar conversation of former yards created standouts like Kareem Hunt (35%) and Alvin Kamara (36%). Georgia’s offensive line was one of the best in the nation last year, but Swift showed a refined sense of patience and vision to isolate and burst through holes quickly when they opened up. And, once he gets to the second-level, Swift exhibits high-level elusiveness, suddenness, and underrated leg drive to fight through contact. Only Clyde Edwards-Helaire (0.42) and Zack Moss (0.40) forced more missed tackles per rush than Swift (0.39) in this class.
Swift is also one of the best outside-zone runners I’ve personally studied coming out of college and it’s one of the reasons I hope the Lions view him as their featured back. I never go out my way to make comparisons to other backs, but it was hard not to see Dalvin Cook in Swift’s game as both were highly effective backs rushing off-tackle. Cook created an absurd 7.7 yards created per rush on his off-tackle carries in college while Swift posted an impressive 6.4 YC/A on outside carries last year. Swift’s short-area quickness and explosive but controlled movement ability will make him a lethal off-tackle runner in the NFL.
Because Georgia was a run-first team and had a lot of weapons to get the ball to, Swift “only” caught 24 balls in 2019 -- but his separation ability and ball-tracking skills were always on display when he got opportunities. On 92 targets, Swift ended his college career with 75/666/5 receiving, which is eerily similar to what Alvin Kamara accomplished on similar volume at Tennessee (76/694/7 on 94 targets). Kamara was far more efficient in my charting -- he earned 2.8 receiving yards per route while Swift averaged 1.1 YPRR -- but the Lions would be wise to unleash Swift in the passing game.
And finally, Swift was the best pass-blocking back in the class. His 90% pass protection execution rate was slightly better than Zack Moss (88%) for the class lead. Not only should Swift be immediately entrusted with a big role as a receiver, but he showed a natural ability to square up and punish oncoming defenders.
Swift vs. Johnson
Kerryon Johnson has certainly improved since entering the NFL, but as college prospects, I think it’s important to note that D’Andre Swift and Johnson are in two different tiers in terms of talent. Here’s a quick side-by-side look at how Swift and Johnson stacked up against each other in Yards Created:
|Yards Created Stat||D’Andre Swift||Kerryon Johnson|
|YC per rush||4.73||4.32|
|Carries that create 5+ yards (%)||34%||14%|
|Missed tackles per carry||0.39||0.27|
|Yards gained per route run||1.1||0.9|
|Pass protection execution%||90%||60%|
The concerns for Swift in fantasy football are pretty straight-forward. Both Matt Patricia and Darrell Bevell have been saying they believe in a committee approach at RB since last summer, so Kerryon Johnson is still going to command a role on early-downs. And, Bevell’s tendency to not use his backs in the passing game is equally concerning.
Bevell has been an offensive coordinator for 13 seasons and only given a running back more than 60 targets… once. And it was back in 2006. In fact, an individual running back has never seen more than 12% of his team’s targets in any season Bevell has been an offensive coordinator. For reference, 19 different running backs saw at least 12% of their team’s targets last season and 12 of them (63%) finished the season as a fantasy RB2 (top-24) or better.
Just last year in his first season as OC of the Lions, Kerryon Johnson was averaging a lowly 2.6 targets per contest in his first five games before getting hurt (41-target full-season pace). Over the entire 2019 season, the Lions targeted their running backs in the passing game on just 15% of their total pass attempts -- which tied for the 10th-lowest rate in the league. In theory, rational team-building would suggest that you don’t take a player of Swift’s caliber without a firm plan in place, but Bevell’s past tendencies combined with a committee approach suggests that Swift will not be a high-volume pass catcher in his rookie season.
Even though his landing spot was disappointing -- especially compared to Edwards-Helaire in KC, Taylor in Indy, and Dobbins in Baltimore -- Swift is already a more versatile back than Johnson. And, if Matt Patricia can’t turn the Lions around this season, it’s possible that Detroit could go through a regime change that might view Swift as a featured back in the future. It’s very possible that the talented Swift will be a great buy-low in 2021.
For now, we are collectively low on Swift’s fantasy stock. Our staff has ranked Swift at RB5 for rookie dynasty drafts and we have him at RB30 in our first run of season-long projections, which is well below Swift’s early ADP (RB22) in Best Ball 10s.