Lions inching closer to removing limitations on running back D'Andre Swift

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — In Tennessee, Titans running back Derrick Henry is on pace to shatter the NFL record for carries. The supersized rusher is currently averaging more than 27 carries and nearly 30 touches per game, and with an extra regular-season contest added to the schedule starting this season, he's threating to topple Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark set in 1984. 

With that oversized workload, there are obvious questions about the long-term impact it could have on Henry's career. The last guy to run the ball 400 times in a season, Larry Johnson with Kansas City in 2006, failed to top 200 carries in five injury-shortened seasons following the feat prior to retiring.

Through seven games, Lions running back D'Andre Swift is averaging 11.1 rushing attempts and six receptions per contest.

And while that's a fascinating discussion, the Detroit Lions face their own workload questions with their star running back, D'Andre Swift. But unlike Henry, the Lions have to to be asking themselves if they're getting their top playmaker the ball enough. 

Through seven games, Swift is averaging 17.1 touches per game. That ranks 12th among running backs in the NFL, tied with Tampa Bay's Leonard Fournette and sandwiched between Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor and San Francisco rookie Elijah Mitchell.

There have been mitigating factors limiting Swift through the first seven games. First and foremost, the Lions have a quality complementary option in the backfield with Jamaal Williams. He signed to a two-year deal as a free agent this offseason and is averaging a career-best 4.4 yards per carry as the team's starter. 

And any honest assessment of Detroit's offensive strategy would actually point to Swift playing less if the team wasn't trailing by double digits in the second half most weeks, which forces them to ditch Williams down the stretch. 

Secondly, Swift has been on the injury report all year and limited in every practice with a lingering groin injury he suffered in training camp. That, more than anything, has had the Lions coaching staff reluctantly pulling at his reins, making sure they don't overwork him and unnecessarily make the issue worse.  

But even though that practice routine might not change any time soon, Lions coach Dan Campbell's concerns about the running back doing any long-term damage to the groin seem to be softening. 

"We didn't have him all of training camp, kind of had the groin (issue) coming back, so he's just really every week gotten a little bit better," Campbell said. "He still gets a little irritated by these things coming out of a game, and so we're trying to be smart and try to maximize his abilities and his time to be smart with it. But I do feel like he's starting to turn that corner to where, all right man, he's got some games and reps under his belt, he's able to handle it, he's recovering. So if we think he can handle it, we're going to start giving it to him a little bit more."

After last Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams — when Swift posted a season-high 144 yards from scrimmage, including a 63-yard touchdown on a screen to open the game's scoring — Campbell put things in the plainest terms possible. 

"Yeah, he's a stud," Campbell said. "We've got to get him the ball, and we can't get him the ball enough."

What does the ceiling for that workload look like? Well, Saints running back Alvin Kamara is probably a good place to start, given his similar build and the fact that Campbell has compared the two players in the past. 

Currently, Kamara ranks second in the NFL in touches per game at 23.2, well behind Henry but a good six ahead of Swift. That might not seem like a lot at first glance, until you realize it would represent a 36% increase for Detroit's dynamic dual-threat. 

That's exciting when you consider the impact Swift has been having with his caged workload. Not only is he easily pacing the Lions with 653 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns, he's leading all running backs with 42 receptions and 391 receiving yards.

"I think he's got game-changing ability," Campbell said. "And I do see similarities (to Kamara). They're similar in that regard, that they can both somewhat take a game over. I think they have that ability."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers