The Detroit Lions need a running back, but should they choose from a growing group of veteran re-treads?
The Detroit Lions have had stability at the most important position in sports, with Matthew Stafford starting every game for the last seven seasons. But their rushing attack has consistently left a lot to be desired, and it reached a low point last season with a finish of dead-last in the league (76.3 yards per game).
Ameer Abdullah has underachieved, and Theo Riddick is little more than a productive pass catcher. So the Lions are in the market for a running back this offseason, and general manager Bob Quinn confirmed it right after the 2017 season ended.
The Lions have reported interest in a couple veteran running backs, as DeMarco Murray and Jonathan Stewart are lined up to visit on Monday. Adrian Peterson is also in line to be available soon, when the Arizona Cardinals inevitably cut him, so should Detroit have a clear choice between the three name-brand veteran running backs?
Murray set career-lows in rushing yards (659) and yards per carry (3.6) with the Tennessee Titans last year. That made last week’s decision to release him obvious, along with wiping his entire $6.5 million salary off the salary cap.
Since leading the league in carries (392), rushing yards (1,845) and rushing touchdowns (13, tied) with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, Murray has averaged 3.6 yards per carry in two of three seasons. The one good season he had, 2016 with the Titans, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry and needed 293 carries (third-most in the league) to deliver 1,287 yards.
Murray also just turned 30, the age where history says running backs decline. But two of the last three seasons, due to bad scheme fit or otherwise, show Murray’s drop-off is already here.
Stewart was cut by the Carolina Panthers at the end of February, and he has also visited the Seattle Seahawks. He will turn 31 next week.
Stewart has not played all 16 games in a season since 2011, and he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry last season. But he does have 21 rushing touchdowns over the last three seasons, with a total of 41 carries inside the 5-yard line over that span.
Due to injuries or off-field issues, Peterson has delivered little to nothing in three of the last four seasons now. The one exception was 2015, when he led the league in rushing with 1,485 yards while also leading the league in carries (327). He’ll turn 33 next week (March 21), but inflated self-worth will probably lead to Peterson thinking he’ll can still play and be someone’s workhorse.
Murray does add something as a pass catcher that Peterson and Stewart don’t, with 39 receptions last year and at least 44 catches in each of the previous four seasons. But that may not sway the Lions, with Riddick plenty capable of filling a passing down role.
The Lions should have the top running backs, this side of Saquon Barkley, on their radar with the 20th pick in April’s draft. With some depth already in place, a major move in free agency isn’t likely and backs like Murray, Stewart and eventually Peterson seem to be on the radar.
Stewart can fill a short yardage/goal line role, with no obvious delusions he’s a lead back. That makes him the best fit for Detroit, if they just have to add a running back on the wrong side of 30 this offseason.