There are some fantasy football owners who look to avoid players from teams expected to be really bad. Historically, when struggling franchises are discussed, it doesn’t take long for the Detroit Lions to be mentioned. The organization has been mired near the bottom of the league for the last four years – posting a dismal 17-48 record in that span – but one player who brings reason for excitement is dual-threat running back D’Andre Swift.
He has missed chunks of time in his first two seasons – three games in 2020 and four games in 2021 – but the numbers he has put up demand fantasy attention, because he has been a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara in his double role in Detroit’s offense. It’s not just his rushing that makes him valuable. It’s his ability to be a three-down back.
In 13 games as a rookie, Swift rushed 114 times for 521 yards, caught 46 passes for 357 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. In 13 games last season, he rushed 151 times for 617 yards, caught 62 passes for 452 yards and scored seven touchdowns. When he went down early in Week 12 – missing almost five full games – he was leading NFL running backs in receptions, which pile up points in PPR formats.
Injuries have prevented him from being a legitimate RB1, but there are reasons to believe the risk is worth the reward for making a run to get Swift on your fantasy roster. After a brutal start to the season, Jared Goff improved down the stretch – throwing 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions in his final five games. Swift also saw his numbers limited because Detroit’s defense was so awful (29th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed) that the Lions offense had to abandon the run in the second half too often.
However, the clear strength of the team is one of the most dominant offensive lines in the game. The team has three first-round picks up front – left tackle Taylor Decker, right tackle Penei Sewell and center Frank Ragnow. Left guard Jonah Jackson made the Pro Bowl last season, and right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been impressive since coming to Detroit in free agency, moving from tackle to guard. This front five can dominate the trenches and consistently open holes for Swift – the team’s 4.4-yard rushing average last year was its highest since 1998, when Barry Sanders was tearing up the league.
Fantasy football outlook
Swift doesn’t have to look over his shoulder for threats to playing time. Jamaal Williams has been a career backup who is dependable and workmanlike, and Craig Reynolds shined when Swift went down last season but isn’t seen as a challenge to Swift’s spot. There may be a few matchups in which Williams shoulders more of the load than Swift on the ground, but the third-year pro is far more explosive than the former Green Bay Packer.
Most rankings have Swift coming off the board not only as an RB1 but as a top six or seven back. That may be a little aggressive, but all signs point to head coach Dan Campbell allowing Swift to be the face of the offense and letting the offensive line overpower defenders.
Swift is a legitimate RB1 candidate after a 15th-place PPR finish a year ago, but until he proves he can stay healthy for a full season and be a weekly fantasy stud, there will be enough fantasy owners who will devalue him. If he can stay on the field, 1,500 total yards, 80 receptions and double-digit touchdowns aren’t out of the question. The risk here is well worth the reward.