When Lions might draft a running back

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Bob Quinn stood up at the podium in January, hours after he fired Jim Caldwell following the end of last season, and said he would be making changes to the running back room.

He insisted there would be at least one new back in there. It always seemed, though, like it could have been a bigger overhaul. Then the Detroit Lions went out in free agency and signed big-bodied LeGarrette Blount, the type of power rusher the team has lacked over the past few seasons.

Blount, at age 31, is a veteran. It’s not clear how much he’ll have left since running backs usually start to fade after age 30. But it always seemed like it was part of the bigger plan instead of the entirety of it when it came to revamping the team’s running back group.

And yet, when Quinn was asked if Blount’s signing changes how they approach the draft and the position they ignored a year ago in player selection, he said it could shift it.

“It could impact it a little bit,” Quinn said. “I think if we had to go play a football game today, I think we have enough running backs to be competitive. Now is that saying I’m not going to take one? I don’t know. Tell me who is on the board in the second, third, fourth round. I mean, I don’t know.”

The Lions have most of their running backs from last year back: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and Tion Green. That group was last in the league in rushing yards per game and yards per rush.

Some of that had to do with the offensive line’s multiple injuries and lack of cohesion, but the backs had their issues.

So it always seemed like there would be a rookie added to the room, perhaps one taken in the early rounds of the draft. This seemed even more likely considering the group of rushers this year is deep and talented, led by Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who is not expected to be around by the time Detroit picks at No. 20.

A bunch of other backs are, though, including LSU’s Derrius Guice, the Georgia duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and USC’s Ronald Jones II. Many of them, though, could be around in Round 2, too.

That Quinn didn’t mention the first round when he was asked about Blount and the backs might have been telling, too. There’s only one (maybe two) backs who would be a possibility at No. 20 – Guice being the main target. Last year, Quinn didn’t take a running back, bypassing both Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara at different points in the draft. He said in January he had no regrets passing on either player.

Quinn said he hasn’t looked at the evolution of running backs in the draft over the years, but mentioned that in New England they found backs of value early (Laurence Maroney, Round 1, 2006), in the middle rounds (James White, Round 4, 2014) and as undrafted free agents (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 2008). He said their job is to get “the best guy at the right time and whenever that is, if it is this year, then great.”

The value of running backs in the first round, though, is debatable, and teams have gone back and forth with it. Quinn said that often comes down to where you’re picking and said value is there – if you’re picking high enough.

The Lions are not drafting high enough to take Barkley, who should be a top 5 pick this year. But almost every other running back should be in play.

So is No. 20 high enough this year to take a running back in the first round, Quinn was asked. He paused before giving the answer that most general managers would give at this point a week before the draft: “Maybe.”

That’s the key to draft season. Everything is a possibility – until it isn’t anymore, but that won’t be known for sure until Thursday night. But the way Quinn talked about running backs sure made it sound like the Lions will take one at some point if there is the right guy there. It just might not be in the first round.