Lions draft preview: Running back talent runneth over

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Melvin Gordon

This is the sixth in a series of Lions position previews for the NFL draft. Today: Running backs.

The Lions ranked 28th in rushing last year, and all of their backs averaged less than 4 yards per carry.

Some of the issues had to do with poor offensive line play and injuries up front. But as the Lions consider ways to improve the offense moving forward, they will consider adding a running back in the draft.

Luckily for the Lions, this year's draft is loaded with talented running backs. In addition to potential first-round picks Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), there are plenty of other backs that will go throughout the draft that could make an immediate impact. ESPN's Todd McShay thinks seven backs will go in the first three rounds.

And even though the Lions have great weapons in the pass game with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and potentially Eric Ebron, coach Jim Caldwell wants the Lions to be a run-first team.

"The running game, to me, is really kind of the heartbeat of your team," he said last month. "Can you run the ball? Can you stop the run? That's going to be our primary focus."

After cutting Reggie Bush following an ineffective 2014, the Lions' depth chart at tailback lists Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and George Winn. Bell finished the season strong and had 860 rushing yards, 322 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns. But he had a fumbling issue, putting the ball on the ground five times, though he only lost it once.

Riddick proved capable of handling Bush's role as a receiving threat with 316 receiving yards and four touchdowns, but is unproven as a runner. Winn had 19 carries for 73 yards as the No. 3 option.

Looking at the draft, the Lions could go any direction if they want a back. With Bell turning 29 in August, they could look for a power back. With Riddick's sample size still small, the Lions could take a fast, shifty player to help replace Bush.

NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said he wouldn't be shocked if the Lions drafted a back in the first round.

* Go through the gallery above or go here for Josh Katzenstein's top 10 running backs in the NFL draft.