The Detroit Lions remade their backfield in 2023, swapping D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams for David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. The question entering training camp is whether the changes significantly altered the Lions' offense or just swapped names.
Speaking on The Season with Peter Schrager podcast, general manager Brad Holmes was emphatic that the moves will better fit what the Lions want to do on offense.
"When you look at it systematically, I do think we'll be better offensively," he said. "That's no knock on the contributions that those other two guys gave us. Swift is a dynamic player and Jamaal was a great leader for us, and he did so much for us. He had a great season. But I think Montgomery and Jamaal are different backs. Montgomery does a little bit more in the passing game. And being able to add Gibbs, he's just so dynamic as a receiver. Look, he's a home run hitter as a running back, that's the easy part. What he does as a receiver -- he runs routes like a receiver."
Williams rushed for 1,066 yards and led the NFL with 17 touchdowns (13 coming inside the 3-yard line). In two seasons in Detroit, he caught 38 passes for 230 yards (both fewer than he had in 2019 with Green Bay). Swift rushed for 542 yards with five TDs last season and caught 48 passes for 389 yards. Injuries were an issue for the former second-round pick before being traded to Philadelphia this offseason.
Montgomery, meanwhile, rushed for 801 yards and five TDs and caught 34 passes for 316 yards for Chicago in 2022. Last season at Alabama, Gibbs rushed 151 times for 926 yards, caught 44 passes for 444 yards and scored 10 total TDs.
Montgomery might bring a little more pop than Williams. Behind a struggling offensive line in Chicago, Montgomery also got stuffed less last season. Williams' stuff percentage in 2022 was 16%, while Montgomery's was 13.4%, tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL among backs with 100 carries, per Next Gen Stats.
Gibbs, however, is the more intriguing swap. It's no secret the Lions wanted to move on from Swift, who struggled to stay healthy and got caught trying to hit home runs too often. But using the No. 12 pick on a pass-catching back surprised many during the draft.
All offseason, Holmes has argued that Gibbs is more than just a back, so the club isn't worried about positional value. The GM told Schrager he views Gibbs as a "multi-phase, elite, explosive, positionless weapon."
The GM mentioned Gibbs could have the same impact on the Lions' offense as two of the greatest dual-threat backs in NFL history.
"When I first got with the Rams in 2003, Marshall Faulk was still there, and I was a huge Marshall Faulk guy -- just kind of seeing what he does in both phases," Holmes said. "And just from a scouting standpoint, when Christian McCaffrey came out, he was the last guy that I was like, 'Holy cow, this guy can run routes like a slot receiver but also run it.' So, you start getting reminders of those players. I'm not sitting here saying Jahmyr Gibbs is those players, but (he's) just a special weapon like that. We have a lot of excitement and optimism."
If Gibbs turns out to be a Faulk- or CMC-type player for the Lions, Detroit's offense should soar. But given the high praise Holmes has had to use this offseason to justify selecting an RB that high, there is a lot of pressure on the rookie to prove his worth early in his career.