Kiper: Drafting ‘top-flight’ RB a must for Lions

Justin Rogers

Allen Park — After finishing last in the NFL in rushing last season, it’s putting it mildly to suggest the Detroit Lions need to invest in their ground game this offseason.

General manager Bob Quinn already has said he plans to add a running back, and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, on a Thursday conference call, said the position is the team’s biggest need.

But Kiper doesn’t believe Detroit needs to address the position in the first round, where they’d struggle to get value picking No. 20 overall.

“They’ve got to get a top-flight running back,” Kiper said. “There’s not one to take at that point.”

In the second round and beyond, Kiper listed off a lengthy list of options who could make sense for the Lions.

“In the second round, you could look at Sony Michel from Georgia,” he said. “In the second round, third, look at Derrius Guice. Ronald Jones from USC is another one that could go in the second-round mix.”

A little further down the board, Kiper also mentioned Michel’s backfield counterpart at Georgia, Nick Chubb.

Long viewed as the better prospect, Chubb has been passed by Michel in the eyes of many analysts, including Kiper, because of latter’s versatility and advanced pass-blocking skills. And there are few prospects with Michel’s home-run potential. He averaged a staggering 7.9 yards per carry as a senior.

It seems like every year a team finds value at running back later in the draft. Last year, both Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt were selected in the third round. The year before, the Chicago Bears scored Jordan Howard in the fifth.

Among the talented options who could slide, Kiper noted injury issues could anchor the stock of Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Miami’s Mark Walton.

Walton missed most of last season with an ankle injury. In the four game he played, he racked up more than 500 yards from scrimmage, while averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Freeman was banged up much of the 2016 season. He rebounded to rush for 1,475 yards as a senior, but that was less productive than his freshman and sophomore campaigns, when he topped 1,800 rushing yards each season.

“People get a little down on Freeman because he didn’t finish strong, maybe Freeman gets into the fourth, fifth round,” Kiper said. “There’s a guy that we know, when he’s at maximum level, can give you a heckuva performance.”

It’s almost a certainty the Lions will add a back in the draft, looking to land their own Hunt, Howard or Kamara. The team averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per carry and 76.3 yards per game in 2017, both league lows.