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Can Jamaal Williams Be Lions' No. 1 Running Back?

Former NFL scout Daniel Kelly dissects whether first-year Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams has what it takes to be the team's No. 1 back.

As the preseason progresses, the battle to see who will be the Lions’ starting running back this season will heat up. And, the question is: Can Jamaal Williams emerge as the team’s starter?

There is a lot of Detroit fans out there who favor second-year RB D’Andre Swift. 

As a rookie, Swift pounded the rock 114 times for 521 yards, with a 4.6 yards-per-carry average. While his average was good enough to rank 22nd in the NFL among his peers, is it good enough for Detroit to win? 

In the words of Bill Belichick, this is a bottom-line business, and winning is the bottom line. 

Nothing else matters, and no other stat matters as much as winning. 

Swift strikes me more as a finesse, No. 2 back in the NFL. He is the ideal “change-of-pace" back. 

It takes more than what he has shown to be the featured back on a winning team. 

There is something missing when it comes to Swift, for my money. I have never been able to warm up to him. 

Enter Williams, who was the No. 2 back in Green Bay, running behind one of the elite backs in the game in Aaron Jones. 


During his time with the Lions’ division rivals, Williams made the most of every opportunity. 

He was an integral piece to the Packers’ puzzle, which saw them make two straight NFC Championship Games. 

Williams pounded away for a 4.3 yards-per-carry average in 2019 and a 4.2-yard average in 2020. 

While Swift’s yards-per-carry average is slightly higher than Williams' and their production out of the backfield as receivers is similar, (last season, Swift recorded 7.8 yards per catch and for Williams, it was 7.6 yards), Williams runs harder, and that is what is needed for Detroit to win. 

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There are Lions fans who probably looked at Williams’ stats in the team's preseason opener against the Buffalo Buffalo and scratched their heads. 

Williams had nine carries for just 15 yards, but he ran hard. That is the thing that stood out the most. 

His 15 yards had more to do with the Lions’ offensive linemen -- often seen just standing around -- than Williams himself. 

Williams brings a physical edge and an attitude not seen out of Swift, and that suits the brand of football Detroit head coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn want to play. 

Williams is the epitome of a hard-nosed, downhill runner who has a lot of football left in him. He is also visibly passionate on the field more often than not, and that, too, is an infectious intangible that the offense needs to be successful. 

Williams also brings the experience of having played for one of the best teams in the NFL over the past two seasons. That translates to the locker room and the culture that Campbell and the team's general manager Brad Holmes are attempting to instill in Detroit. 

After all, building a team is about more than just putting together a bunch of height, weight and speed guys. 

It is also about chemistry and injecting Detroit’s offense with a proven winner to shoulder the load in the backfield. It is about going with the guy who gives the team the best chance to win -- all things considered. 

"Workhorse" is a good word to use when it comes to Williams. 

He is not some sleek, sports car runner, and he will not remind anyone of Lions legend Barry Sanders. But, he will pound the rock with the type of intensity, tenacity and attitude that Detroit has to have, if it intends on climbing out of the basement in the NFC North.

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