Detroit’s Running Back Situation Questions Drafting Addition in 2017

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Detroit Had Injury And Depth Issues When It Came To Running The Ball Last Season, Do They Add Another RB?

Welcome to this year’s draft overview series. In this series I take a look at five possible options at each position that Detroit could end up taking in this years NFL draft. Last week I looked at quarterback, this week’s position is running back.

Running back was a tough position to watch last season in Detroit. The positive: Detroit is building a wall on the offensive line. The negative: nobody can stay healthy. That is the biggest issue for last season as most of the running backs on the roster missed time. Ameer Abdullah was the starting running back and would only play in two games due to a torn ligament in his foot. Theo Riddick had to step up in the running game with Abdullah out and he would miss seven games with a wrist injury.

Rookie Dwayne Washington had an ankle injury that held him back a few games as well. Zach Zenner went into concussion protocol following the game against the Bears in week 14, but would return the next week. Detroit had to bring in Justin Forsett and Joique Bell with the injuries piling up on the roster. Detroit could look to add a free agent running back, but with a deep and talented rookie running back class this season, Detroit may not want to pass up on it.

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1. Joe Mixon (Oklahoma)

The biggest question mark in this draft class is Joe Mixon. If you want a good article to read up on him, check out what Bryce said here.

My opinion on the whole situation is people deserve a second chance. Ask me a month ago and I would laugh and say no. After thinking it over and realizing we give some second chances, it isn’t right to dump off Mixon. If you disagree and don’t think we should take him, I completely get your reasoning as this is a tough thing to decide on.

Now onto what Mixon actually can do on the field. Mixon was able to put up 2,027 yards for 17 touchdowns in his two seasons playing for Oklahoma. He can also do damage in the air, catching 65 passes for 894 yards and nine touchdowns.

Mixon has good hands and is like Abdullah when running the ball. He makes people miss with quick jukes, and can find the open hole, even if it is for a one or two yard gain. He does struggle when it comes to blocking and while he does make people miss with his moves, he sometimes makes too many moves and it costs him. Another thing when it comes to Mixon is his speed. That first cut, if there is a hole that he can run through he can accelerate with a quick burst and turn that run into a 20-30 yard gain.

Joe Mixon has been rising on boards for multiple teams, Detroit could risk a first round pick on him, but the second round is the best value for him.

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2. Samaje Perine (Oklahoma)

A teammate of Joe Mixon and another head on the dragon for running backs in Oklahoma, Samaje Perine can be a threat in the NFL as well. Perine could be seen as the better back between the two as his numbers are impressive. In three years, he was able to rack up 4,122 yards and 49 touchdowns, while only catching 40 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns.

Perine is a more between-the-tackles running back, powerful and patience is key for him. He can get some bursts of speed if needed to go to the outside and he can do a quick cut or two and can stiff arm opponents away. While his blocking is better than Mixon’s it could still improve. He has dealt with ankle injuries in the past, so that is something to watch as well. Perine doesn’t give up when hit; he tries to bully people around with his strength.

Perine is the best running back come the fourth round and if Detroit thinks they need help, he is the best option at that spot.

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3. Kareem Hunt (Toldeo)

Hunt is the back on this list with the most playing time and his numbers show for it. Hunt had 4,945 yards for 44 touchdowns, while getting 73 catches for 555 yards and one touchdown.

Hunt has heart and determination. Watching him never give up on plays and extend them for as long as he can is impressive. He can dodge defenders with a quick move or push them out of his way. While Hunt only ran a 4.62 at the Combine, he has some burst ability to turn on the jets and gain a big chunk of yards. When asked to run inside, he does struggle with that though. He likes the spin move and it can cost him yards if he does this rather than plowing through, which he is good at. His blocking is better than most and he knows how to handle screen plays effectively.

Hunt would be another option in the fourth round for Detroit if Perine is off the board.

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4. James Conner (Pittsburgh)

A knee injury didn’t slow down James Conner and neither did Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Conner overcame both of these and had an impressive 2016 season. After battling those things during the 2015 season, Conner came back stronger than ever. He was able to put up 3,733 yards and 52 touchdowns, while catching 30 balls for 412 yards and four touchdowns.

Like Hunt, Conner won’t give up on plays and can you blame him? The man beat cancer, he will believe in himself in anything he does now. While Conner isn’t fast, he can use what speed he has to clear away from defenders and he can take some hits before going down. The bad part is the lack of speed that Conner has shows in how he runs, running with more power than acceleration and it could cost him. He sits behind the line a little too much while they try and create a hole instead of giving it a second and trying to work with something. Conner though doesn’t need a clear path to disrupt play and gain a few extra yards. He is a solid short yardage back.

Conner is a fifth round back at best and would compete to become a backup instead of possibly starting like the above players.

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5. De’Veon Smith (Michigan)

Smith has the worst numbers out of these backs, but he could still compete for a roster spot. Smith wasn’t a consistent starter and with Jim Harbaugh coming into Michigan in 2015, he went with a running back committee, which cut into Smith’s playing time and stats. Smith put up 2,235 yards and 22 touchdowns, while catching 38 passes for 251 yards and one touchdown.

Smith is another power back option for Detroit. He can use his second level speed to pull away if a hole is there. He can keep plays alive with his toughness. One thing he needs to work on is cutting. He tends to cut too much and it costs him more than helping. Even when he uses a juke move to make people miss, it rarely helps him out to gain extra yards. Smith can block well and if he is out in open space, then his moves are effective and he can gain even more yards.

Smith could compete for a roster spot in the sixth round if Detroit doesn’t see running back as a big need.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @BKnappBlogs, find me on Reddit at /u/sportsguy4life and share your thoughts on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Brandon Knapp
Brandon Knapp is a senior at Central Michigan University, majoring in Journalism, minoring in Sports Management. He was born and raised in the city of Marysville, MI. He also writes for and covers the Michigan Wolverines Football team (his other love). Brandon also enjoys watching the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers.