NFL 2019: Can Lions' run-oriented offense be successful enough to save Matt Patricia's job?
Johnson ran for nearly 1,400 yards at a 4.9 yards-per-carry clip in the SEC as a 20 year old in 2017 at Auburn and was averaging a hefty 5.4 yards per rush on 118 attempts last season for the Lions before a knee sprain ended his rookie year after 10 games.
A vertical jump in the 93rd percentile at the position, and a broad jump in the 91st percentile indicate, the 5-foot-11, 206-pound runner is very explosive.
He has the talent to be a legit star in the backfield, and the Lions clearly want to give him the football often. Probably a good value pick in fantasy drafts this summer, he just needs to prove he can stay healthy.
After Johnson, Detroit is surprisingly thin at running back position in terms of established contributors. Zach Zenner's long been a fan favorite and after averaging under 4.0 yards per carry in each of his first three seasons in Motown, his average jumped to 4.8 in 2018. In May, I listed Ty Johnson, the Lions' 2019 sixth-round selection, as a Day 3 pick who can be an instant impact player mostly due to his ridiculous acceleration and blistering long speed. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry on 348 career rushes at Maryland.
The tight ends
The largest splash the Lions made on offense in free agency was the acquisition of former Steelers tight end Jesse James, a reliable short-to-intermediate level receiver, who, at 6-7 and 260-ish pounds, can hold his own in-line as a blocker.
That signing didn't stop Detroit from picking tight end T.J. Hockenson at No. 8 overall in the draft, someone I called a "destroyer of worlds" pre-draft because of his blocking prowess. He's a gifted receiver thanks to a large catch radius and the ability to separate.
Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press noted some three tight end looks at minicamp, and even under the safe assumption that two tight end sets will be more frequent, the Lions have significantly more top-end talent at the position than they did in 2018.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the Lions carried the football 119 times for 359 yards (3.01 yards per) when in a two tight end set last season, the sixth-lowest average in the NFL.
Now, with Hockenson and James in the fold, the run-game efficiency from two tight end looks should improve. Given the receiving steadiness of James and the explosive skills of Hockenson, that formation has the makings of a versatile personnel grouping that keeps defenses guessing all season.
In theory, the Lions should focus on sharpening the passing game -- Stafford's 6.8 yards-per-attempt average in 2018 was his lowest since 2018.
However, with a solid offensive line, a young, skilled runner, two capable blockers at the tight end position, and Bevell as the offensive coordinator, this year's iteration of the Lions has the makeup to run the football more effectively than they have in a long time.