During the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Lions thought they had gotten their lead back when they traded up with the 49ers to select Kerryon Johnson in the second round. Johnson was expected to emerge as a top back but over two years, that hasn’t happened yet. Johnson has been slowed by injuries, and that’s why the team invested another second-round pick in ’20 on D’Andre Swift. The rookie is expected to be a starter early in his NFL career, and for fantasy purposes, he seems to be closer to an RB2 in fantasy rankings than a handcuff or sleeper in most formats.
Will Swift be able to deliver and live up to expectations? He should have a good shot at it. But fantasy owners will be worried about a leg injury that has kept him out of practice in for over a week and his ability to unseat Johnson during a shortened offseason.
So, is Swift good enough to be an RB2 this year? Is he a flex play? Or is he further behind Kerryon Johnson than we all think? When drafting Swift, these are the questions to ask and the answers depend, mostly, on how you view the threat of the veteran Johnson taking carries away from the rookie.
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D’Andre Swift fantasy outlook
Swift continued the long-standing tradition of Georgia having high-quality running backs that are targeted early in the NFL Draft. During his freshman year, he was stuck behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but he still managed to produce 618 yards and three scores on just 81 carries. The following two years, Swift was the lead back for Georgia and twice produced 1,000-yard seasons on the ground despite shouldering fewer than 200 carries each campaign. He finished his career with over 3,500 total yards, 25 TDs, 73 catches, and a 6.6 yards per carry average.
Swift is a thickly-built RB. He’s only 5-9, but he tips the scales at 215 pounds. His athleticism and speed (4.48 40-yard dash) along with that size makes him a uniquely difficult man to bring down.
At some point, Swift is going to be a starter — and a very good one at that — but will it happen in ’20? And if so, at what point in the season will it occur? That remains to be seen.
For most of the offseason, it seemed like Swift was well on his way to overtaking Kerryon Johnson for the top role in the Lions backfield. However, Swift has missed over a week of practice while dealing with a leg injury, and that appears to have put a momentary damper on his potential role in the Lions’ offense.
Matt Patricia seemed to indicate that Swift missing time is a “concern,” especially given his rookie status, so that could mean that it will take a while for Swift to catch up and emerge as the top runner. That said, Swift has looked good at camp when he has been on the field, so if he’s fully healthy and up to speed enough on the offense, he could easily become the top RB.
The hope for fantasy owners drafting Swift is that he will emerge quickly out of a potential timeshare with Johnson. He is the more explosive of the two and can do more as a pass-catcher, so that should certainly help him out. Of the bat, Swift may only see 10-to-15 touches per game, but if he does well with those, he could quickly emerge as the starter and become an RB2 with high-end upside. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll be a fine flex play as part of a committee approach.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
Kerryon Johnson fantasy outlook
For two seasons, there has been excitement about Kerryon Johnson. He looked like a potential RB2 in both his first and second seasons in the league. However, he has not lived up to that billing.
As a rookie, Johnson was unable to take over the top spot in a committee backfield. He handled fewer carries than LeGarrette Blount and gave way to Theo Riddick most of the time in the passing game. There was reason for optimism after he averaged 5.4 yards per carry and finished as the 33rd overall fantasy back despite sharing carries and missing time with injuries, but he didn’t live up to expectations in ’19. Johnson averaged only 3.6 yards per carry and ranked 47th among RBs in total fantasy points that said. He ended up on IR again and missed half the season.
Johnson has missed a total of 14 games of a possible 32 in two years with the Lions. Sports Injury Predictor suggests that Johnson has a 92-percent chance to miss time in ’20 and that he is projected to miss 3.9 games total. That’s not a good sign, and it’s part of the reason that the Lions drafted Swift — to ensure they had a viable alternative to Johnson if he does get banged up again.
With that said, Johnson can contribute when healthy. He averaged 9.4 fantasy points per game last season, which ranked 26th among RBs. He can be a flex play if he’s given touches, and he should get them early in the season with Swift banged up.
Johnson’s ADP has him ranked as the 34th overall RB coming off the board. Meanwhile, Swift is 29th. It may be hard to handcuff these two unless you pick them back-to-back early. But with the way things are looking right now, Swift is probably still the better player to own. Even if it takes him time to fully overtake Johnson because of his injury, Johnson’s lack of durability doesn’t inspire much confidence. Just make sure that if you draft one as a flex play that you have other options available early in the season in case the timeshare becomes too frustrating to trust.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
Are Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson handcuffs?
After Johnson’s injury last year, Scarbrough became the starter for the Lions. In five starts, he racked up 377 yards and a touchdown as a big, bruising, 235-pound back. He could end up being a TD vulture or a good handcuff if one of the top two backs gets hurt, but that’s all he is at this point.
Meanwhile, Ty Johnson averaged 4.3 yards per carry on limited rushing attempts as a rookie, but he did rack up 24 catches out of the backfield. He only turned that into 109 receiving yards, but it indicates that the team at least trusts him a bit as a receiving back. He may be the more well-rounded handcuff to target but like Scarbrough, he won’t make an impact unless there’s an injury.
There are a couple of other notable RBs on the Lions’ roster. Wes Hills played in one game as a rookie and logged two TDs. He’s not explosive, but he could become a goal-line hammer if he beats out Scarbrough. And fifth-round rookie Jason Huntley had a 1,000-yard season as a senior at New Mexico State and had at least 39 catches during his last three seasons with the team. He could challenge Johnson for the receiving back handcuff role.
Still, none of these guys has nearly as much fantasy value as Swift or Kerryon Johnson. They’re only names to watch in case injuries strike again.