The Detroit Lions made several moves this offseason to address a stagnant run game that has ranked dead last in the NFL in two of the past three seasons, and hasn't produced a single-game 100-yard rusher since 2013.
LeGarrette Blount was signed, and Kerryon Johnson was drafted to add more talent to the Lions' backfield, and the team used its first-round draft pick to select center/guard Frank Ragnow to beef up its offensive line.
Is it enough? No one will know until the Lions start playing actual games. And, on paper, ESPN's NFL backfield rankings posted Friday (pay site) suggest the Lions might still have some work to do.
ESPN's Mike Clay ranks the Lions' backfield 20th out of 32 teams, noting Detroit ranked last in yards per carry (3.5) over the past three seasons and the past decade (3.8), though he seems to give the Lions' additions his thumbs up.
"With the hire of new coach Matt Patricia," Clay writes, "the franchise made an effort this offseason to fix its rushing woes by signing super-efficient rusher Blount and selecting potential three-down back Johnson in the second round of April's draft."
Clay calls Blount "perhaps the league's most underrated back, having averaged 2.3 yards after contact per attempt over the past decade — No. 1 among 76 backs with 550-plus carries."
As for the Lions' holdovers, Theo Riddick "is one of the game's best receiving backs; he ranks either first or second at the position in targets (235), receptions (186), receiving yards (1,512) and touchdown catches (10) over the past three seasons."
Clay says all three should have a "significant role" in the running game this season, while Ameer Abdullah — who could be the odd-man out in the running back rotation — "could also be involved."
Abdullah led the Lions in rushing last season with 552 yards, but averaged just 3.3 per attempt. The Lions averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt, and 76.3 yards on the ground per game, more than nine yards fewer than the Cincinnati Bengals (85.4), who ranked 31st.
The top three teams in ESPN's rankings are aided by players with ties to the state of Michigan. Flint native Mark Ingram teams with Alvin Kamara to form a strong 1-2 punch for the top-ranked New Orleans Saints backfield. And, while Todd Gurley is the clear-cut go-to back in the Los Angeles Rams' second-ranked backfield, Clay calls Oak Park's John Kelly — a sixth-round draft pick out of Tennessee — an "intriguing" rookie.
Former Michigan State star and "ultimate workhorse" Le'Veon Bell heads the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield, which checks in at No. 3.