The NFL Draft is over, and the majority of free agency is as well. And now, we’re in the deep lull of the Detroit Lions’ offseason.
With that, topics get pretty deep into the weeds regarding specific position groups and roster battles.
In this mailbag, the running back and returner spots take center stage. Let’s get to it.
*Questions edited for clarity
1.) Do you think running back Craig Reynolds continues to carry at the rate and efficiency he ended last season on? -- @mayjahrayjah_
Answer: Despite limited playing time, Reynolds was super impressive with his touches. The ability to break tackles and rack up yards after contact were clearly areas of strength for him.
For NFL running backs last season with at least 50 carries, Reynolds was the third-best back in terms of yards after contact (3.87). Usually, most of the best NFL running backs are near the top of that category.
Now, there is a reason why Reynolds has been a career journeyman. It’s unlikely that Reynolds can continue with the efficiency he had in 2021, with a larger workload over the course of the entire season.
The problem is that he also will be fighting for playing time. How much will he even see the field?
However, if he can extrapolate even close to what he did last year into this season, he should no doubt be given a bigger role.
2.) Will running back D’Andre Swift be a three-down back this season? -- @goffisbetter16
A: It all depends on what exactly your definition of a three-down back is. If you are truly asking if he is a player that can play in all phases of the game, yes, he can.
If the question is regarding him being a “workhorse” type who receives the bulk of touches, then I feel a little differently about that.
Make no mistake, Swift is a real nice player in space, but he has had his fair share of struggles running up the middle when no hole is present.
A true workhorse running back typically excels in that department, whereas Swift does his best work when he has room to work with.
Per Next Gen Stats, Swift actually had a negative rush yard over expected per attempt (-0.36). Long story short, that stat is an indicator that Swift would get the yards blocked for him, but not much more. Actually, on average, he would get fewer yards than what was expected, based on the running lanes that were provided.
Now, Swift has reportedly bulked up this offseason, and looked a bit bigger in OTAs. That could help him carry a bigger load -- if he can stay healthy.
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3.) Who will be the kickoff and punt returners for the Lions this season? -- @MitchL24
While Raymond’s spot on the roster looks pretty secure given his new two-year contract, Igwebuike’s isn’t necessarily guaranteed. Even if Igwebuike sticks to the final roster, he may not always be active on gamedays.
In that case, if I had to guess, I would think Raymond could fill both returner roles. Wide receiver Tom Kennedy also received a few chances returning kicks last season.
With all the additions in the receiving corps this offseason, it’s hard to envision Kennedy making the roster, barring multiple injuries. There is another wild card you could add to the equation – more on that in the next question.
4.) Will undrafted free-agent wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton ( from Muskegon/CMU) get a chance to return kicks this season? -- @gcnewsman
A: Being a local product, the electric Pimpleton is easy to root for. Standing in at 5-foot-9, 172 pounds, being the primary returner is likely his best shot to make the roster. The practice squad seems far more of a likely destination.
Guys like Pimpleton often look good with their shifty moves without pads, but it’s a completely different story once they see live action in actual NFL games.
Unfortunately for the young 23-year-old, the returner’s value in the league has been decreasing every year, as well. Fewer kicks are being returned. There are very few returners in the NFL that only fill a roster spot due to return duties.
There’s little doubt that Pimpleton will get a chance to display his ability in the preseason, but I’m assuming the question was more geared toward the regular season. As I mentioned regarding Kennedy above, in a loaded receivers room, it’s going to be tough for an undrafted free agent to crack the roster.
5.) For as many games that the Lions lost close last year, a much better roster and another year of the new systems being under players' belts, what do you think are the realistic chances of the Lions surprising a lot of people and possibly sneaking into a playoff spot this year? -- @DLYank84
A: I have been on record saying that I feel the Lions are a six-or-seven-win team, in terms of talent. This Lions team still looks very much like a team in year No. 2 of a rebuild. Detroit has plenty of unproven positions on the roster.
Yes, there are quite a few players returning from injury and younger players with potential, but that doesn't mean that every single one will reach that full potential or seamlessly be back to 100% health in 2022, either.
In terms of Lions making the playoffs, I wouldn't get my hopes up. You're probably setting yourself up for failure with those expectations.
However, given the Lions' relatively easy schedule and that seventh playoff spot, the Lions really only need a few games to fall in their favor to have a legit chance for the postseason. The better you are as a team, typically the luckier you get.
Long story short, the Lions will need to have a lot go right and only a little go wrong to get into the playoffs, in my mind.