Detroit bolsters backfield with Georgia RB D'Andre Swift

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

A day after addressing a key defensive need in the first round of the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions went to the other side of the ball at the top of the second round, selecting Georgia running back D'Andre Swift with the No. 35 pick Friday night. 

" I’d say (I was) a little bit surprised last night when we went back, and we said, ‘All right, well Swift is still up there,’" Lions general manager Bob Quinn explained. "Kind of crossed our fingers for a couple picks, but felt, going to bed last night, he was the guy that was on my mind the most. I was hoping we could get him, and we stood pat there."

Considered the top tailback in the draft class by many analysts, Swift ran for 1,218 yards and seven touchdowns last season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He added another 216 yards and a score on 24 receptions.

Short but solidly build, the 5-foot-8, 212-pound Swift solidified his resume with a strong showing at the scouting combine in February. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, while displaying above-average explosion with a 35.5-inch vertical. 

D'Andre Swift

Swift is the second running back the Lions have drafted in the second round in the past three years, joining new teammate Kerryon Johnson. 

"Different kind of back — a little bit shorter, a little bit thicker, runs lower to the ground," Quinn said about Swift. "This guy is really good in the open field. Makes guys miss in space, big-play ability, takes the ball well out of the backfield, good route runner. Different, I think they complement each other very well."

Johnson, taken No. 43 in 2018, snapped the team's 70-game drought without a 100-yard rusher in his third game with the franchise. That was part of a rookie season where he averaged 5.4 yards per carry, but he has struggled to stay on the field his first two seasons, missing 14 contests due to knee injuries. 

Swift had some injury issues in college, as well, but didn't miss a game for the Bulldogs, appearing in all 43 the past three seasons. Although he wasn't used heavily in the passing game, he's considered a strong route runner with excellent hands coming out of the backfield. And he believes he has more to offer in the passing game at the next level.

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"I think just getting into space a lot more...running routes in the slot versus whoever," Swift said. "Being able to use my abilities to really showcase my talents, I think I can do that a lot more as far as getting in space and just getting mismatches and stuff like that."

A big-play machine, Swift saw 18 of his 196 carries go for at least 15 yards in 2019. He also did a lot of damage after contact, averaging 3.55 yards after he was first touched by a defender, according to Pro Football Focus.

He becomes the latest in a long line of Georgia running backs to enter the NFL, following the likes of retired stars Herschel Walker and Terrell Davis and a recent wave of high-level producers that includes Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. 

"Amazing, just to have my name mentioned with those guys — they’re legends," Swift said. "I just have to do my part, so I can be talked about with them further down the line."

The Lions have struggled to find a consistently competent ground game since Hall of Famer Barry Sanders abruptly retired before the 1999 season. Reggie Bush was the last back to top 1,000 yards in a season for the team, barely breaking the threshold with 1,006 yards in 2013. 

The Lions ranked 21st in both rushing yards per game and per carry in 2019. Johnson led the team with 403 yards in eight games. In the past decade, the Lions have not finished in the top half of the league in rushing, while finishing in the bottom-five five times during that stretch.

Swift, 21, was born the same year Sanders retired. And much like Johnson did when he was drafted by the Lions two years ago, Swift confessed the Detroit icon has long been his favorite running back.

“Well, everyone would always talk about him," Swift said. "I started watching film and highlights and just looking at his stats. (It’s) kind of unbelievable. As I got older, I tried to emulate my game to be like his in any way possible. I just love watching him."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers