On Saturday in Indianapolis, the Detroit Lions rolled out four running backs, none by the name of D'Andre Swift or Jamaal Williams. Head coach Dan Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff are trying to determine who the backups will be behind their top-two rushers. Heading into camp, it seemed that Craig Reynolds had solidified the third-string position with wonderful production in 2021 when called upon.
Reynolds carried the football 55 times in 2021, totaling 230 rushing yards. He also chipped in with seven receptions for 52 yards. His most impressive effort came in one of Detroit's three total victories last season, routing the Arizona Cardinals. Reynolds carried the load with injuries to Swift and Williams, powering his way to 112 rushing yards on 26 carries.
Next in line for the Lions are Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson. I feel Igwebuike has a leg up on Jefferson because he will be utilized as a returner on special teams. Last season in limited duty, Igwebuike ran for 118 yards on just 18 attempts. That production also included a rushing touchdown. He also returned 28 kickoffs for 697 return yards. The third-year back also added seven receptions on ten targets totaling 60 yards. Jefferson totaled 74 rushing yards and two scores last season on 15 carries.
Jermar Jefferson is battling with veteran Justin Jackson for a final spot with the Detroit Lions.
Jefferson, a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2021, might be falling out of favor for a final roster spot following his performance this past Saturday in Indy. The 22-year-old rushed for just 25 yards on seven carries in Detroit's victory over the Colts. Jefferson played ahead of Igwebuike, but both followed Reynolds and Jackson.
Reynolds totaled 37 yards, and Igwebuike gained 32, including the game-winning score. Jefferson was stalled for just 25 yards on seven totes, but Jackson was the most impressive, rumbling for 54 yards. Jackson also found a way to recover a critical would-be fumble and broke off a 21-yard scamper.
There is value in keeping Jackson, 26, over someone like Jefferson. Jackson is a four-year professional who, in those four seasons, spent time behind Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler on the Los Angeles Chargers depth chart. Last season, Jackson rushed for 364 yards on 68 carries. Suitable for a 5.4-yard average, plus he chipped in with two touchdowns in relief of Ekeler. During his time with the Chargers, Jackson was forced to compete with Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller. Jackson still has a lot of gas left in the tank and will bolster Detroit's running back room.
Over his four-year career, Jackson has amassed 1,040 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He's also been a very efficient receiving threat out of the backfield. He's totaled 508 receiving yards on 65 receptions. Jackson also has some kick return experience. Although limited, he has returned five kicks totaling 107 yards.
It will not shock me if running backs coach Duce Staley lobbies for Jackson over someone like Jefferson to round out his running backs room to begin the season. Jackson and Reynolds make for reliable depth behind Swift and Williams.