Fantasy Football 2020: Who Will Emerge From the Detroit Backfield?

by Alex Kurpeski


When it was announced that the Lions were to use their second round selection in the 2020 draft on running back D’Andre Swift you could almost hear the collective groan of Swift fans, Kerryon Johnson owners, and Lions fans who have been conditioned to expect mediocrity from the organization. Swift, a multifaceted back who many draftniks had pegged as the best player at his position heading into the draft, saw his stock in rookie drafts plunge from top player on the board to mid-first rounder at best, an ADP shift of 4-5 spots. The Lions backfield has been nothing short of a graveyard for running backs in the previous decade or so, with highly-drafted backs like Jahvid Best, Mikel LeShoure, Ameer Abdullah, and Johnson all failing to seize their opportunities as the team’s starter. As great of a player as Swift could be, his outlook could be dim given Detroit’s history of failing to properly develop backs in conjunction with HC Matt Patricia’s hesitance to commit to a lead back. What Swift brings to the table as a pass-catcher may be what sets him apart from the rest of the team’s busts from this past decade, as his floor will be much higher than guys like LeShoure and Abdullah. 


It’s worth noting that while Johnson has been displaced as the workhorse (if you could even call him that)  in the Lions backfield, he should still be featured in a prominent role alongside Swift. While Swift is a smaller back at 5’9, 210 lbs, Johnson has the body team’s typically look for in a back at 6’0, 215 lbs. It’s possible that we see the 22 year-old Johnson get a 50/50 split with Swift in 2020, although his health could definitely factor into his touch count. After all, Johnson has missed at least 6 games in each of his first two seasons. It’s never been a question of talent with Johnson, as he flashed his upside by averaging 5.7 YPT in 2018 while accounting for 854 scrimmage yards. 2019 was not nearly as kind to him, as he saw his YPA drop by 1.8 yards while catching 22 fewer passes than he did as a rookie. 

D'Andre Swift

Behind Swift and Johnson, there should be some room for guys like Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, and 2020 sixth-round pick Jason Huntley to make some noise, especially if Kerryon Johnson’s durability issues persist. Scarbrough, a former five-star recruit who was once the catalyst for Alabama’s championship winning offense, is probably a lock to make Detroit’s roster. At 6’2, 235 lbs, Scarbrough possess the bulk that Matt Patricia likes in a back (as evidenced by the team rostering chubby boy legends LeGarrette Blount and C.J Anderson in recent years) while also having proved his worth in 2019, rushing for 377 yards while averaging 4.2 YPA. Scarbrough is not a pass-catching back by any means, but his bruising run style could earn him a role as a power back/goal line back for the team.


As for Huntley and Johnson, it’s likely that there will only be room for one of the former sixth-round picks to make Detroit’s final roster, with the loser of their competition likely relegated to the practice squad. Johnson was one of the biggest risers in the lead up to the 2019 season, as the former Maryland star appeared poised to carve out a role in the team’s backfield. Unfortunately, Ty Johnson failed to seize his golden opportunity, failing to impress when featured as the team’s lead back following an injury to Kerryon Johnson, starting only one game before being phased out of the game plan in favor of guys like Scarbrough, J.D McKissic, and Tra Carson. Both Huntley and Johnson are somewhat undersized speed backs whose worth lies in their pass-catching abilities. I think it speaks volumes that the Lions liked Huntley enough to draft him even after they added Swift. If I was to bet money on it, he would be my pick to win a roster spot. With our depth chart plotted out, let’s take a look at some projections for this backfield. 


D’Andre Swift


  • 528 rushing yards
  • 103 ATT
  • 2 rushing TDs
  • 61 receptions
  • 482 receiving yards
  • 2 receiving TDs
  • 186.0 fantasy points (RB19-25)


Kerryon Johnson


  • 664 rushing yards
  • 177 ATT
  • 4 rushing TDs
  • 23 receptions
  • 177 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 131.1 fantasy points (RB34-41)


Bo Scarbrough


  • 391 rushing yards
  • 97 ATT
  • 3 rushing TDs
  • 2 receptions
  • 6 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 59.7 fantasy points (RB63-72)


Jason Huntley


  • 77 rushing yards
  • 19 ATT
  • 0 rushing TD
  • 14 receptions
  • 87 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 18.8 fantasy points (RB95+)


I’m not as low on Johnson as a lot of people are, as his youth and talent should allow him to have a role in this offense. I’m simultaneously bullish on Swift, as I think his PPR upside could allow both him and Johnson to be at least flex-worthy options.

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