Bob Quinn has wanted to upgrade the Detroit Lions running game. He made that clear during his season-ending news conference in January and then backed it up with moves he made throughout free agency. Quinn revamped the right side of the team’s offensive line and signed one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL, Darren Fells.
He didn’t, though, sign a running back.
Part of it is understanding building a better running game is way more than just replacing the top back – especially when the top two backs on your roster at least part (and in Ameer Abdullah's case, almost all) of the season on injured reserve. It’s making sure the blocking up front is better so the holes can be run through.
Quinn handled that. But it doesn’t mean the Lions aren’t going to look in the draft for a running back, especially since both Abdullah and Theo Riddick are coming off season-ending injuries that required two wrist surgeries for Riddick and foot surgery for Abdullah.
Abdullah told ESPN on Sunday that he’s ready to go for offseason workouts, but Riddick’s availability is unknown. While Detroit has a young, somewhat deep running back room, don’t be surprised if there’s a move made here to add another back.
Chances the Lions draft a player at this position: 65 percent
Need level (out of five): 3
Players to watch in the draft:
Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: He’s the No. 6 rusher and No. 80 overall prospect according to Scouts, Inc. and is more of a true bigger back than any of the other players Detroit has on its roster at 5-foot-11, 233 pounds. He is different than Abdullah or Riddick and would become the type of closing back late in a game Detroit hasn’t had since Joique Bell was productive.
Kareem Hunt, Toledo: The No. 8 rusher according to Scouts, Inc., Hunt is a productive back who gained 4,075 over the last three seasons without a fumble. That’s big considering the importance of ball security in, well, any offense. Two stats from Pro Football Focus stood out, though, and would make him a strong Lions fit. He had 98 missed tackles last season – second-most in the FBS. He was also rated as the No. 7 most-elusive runner, which is something the Lions could use as a complement to Abdullah and Riddick. His size (5-10, 216 pounds), is also something that will be attractive to Detroit. If he’s available in Round 3 (or Round 4), he could end up being a great value pick.
Wayne Gallman, Clemson: The No. 11 running back prospect by Scouts, Inc., he has gone a little bit under the radar compared to other runners. A physical runner, he can be a good short-yardage option as he picks up the vision necessary in the NFL game. He gained 3,429 yards with 34 touchdowns over three seasons and caught 65 passes for 473 yards.
James Conner, Pittsburgh: The story about his recovery from cancer is well-known and should be lauded, but Conner is a value draft prospect for teams. The No. 9 back by Scouts, Inc., Conner is the all-time ACC rushing touchdowns leader (52) and gained 1,092 yards last season with 16 touchdowns along with catching 21 passes for 302 yards. Like many of the other backs here, he has good size (6-2, 235 pounds) with enough receiving ability to make him at least viable as a pass catcher. He’s a likely early Day 3 prospect who could make sense for Detroit in Round 4 or 5.
D'Onta Foreman, Texas: According to PFF, he forced 64 missed tackles last season – a pretty strong number – and like Perine and Hunt has really good size for his position. The concern with him has to be fumbles – he had seven of them in 2016 according to PFF. The No. 7 rusher by Scouts, Inc., he would be a strong short-yardage option for Detroit. That’s a role the Lions tried to use Washington in last season.