The 2018 NFL Combine has officially started. Running backs, offensive linemen and special teamers will be taking the field for day one of on-field drills. Special teams isn’t an area of need for the Detroit Lions, but the offensive line could use an upgrade and running back is arguably the team’s biggest need. There are plenty of big-name players out there for the Lions to look at to start off the Combine.
Royce Freeman, Oregon
2017 stats: 12 games, 1,475 rush yards, 6.0 avg, 16 rush TDs, 14 rec, 164 rec yards
Career: 51 games, 5,621 yards, 5.9 avg, 60 rush TD, 79 rec, 814 rec yards, 4 rec TD
A four-year starter at Oregon, Freeman has proved he can be the bell-cow back, rushing for 1,300 yards in three of his four seasons. Standing at 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, he is a force to be reckoned with. He tends to rely too much on his power though, taking contact head-on instead of making a move and giving himself some space. Freeman’s the total opposite of both Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah and would be a good change of pace for the Lions.
Derrius Guice, LSU
2017 stats: 12 games, 1,251 rush yards, 5.3 avg, 11 rush TD, 18 rec, 124 rec yards, 2 rec TD
Career: 35 games, 3,074 rush yards, 6.5 avg, 29 rush TD, 32 rec, 250 yards, 3 rec TD
Guice’s career statline is impressive, especially when you factor in that he was Leonard Fournette’s backup until last season and missed time with injury. Like Freeman, Guice isn’t the biggest guy, 5-foot-11, 224 pounds, but he’s not afraid of contact. Unlike Freeman, he has the speed and shiftiness to go along with it. The 20-year-old’s health is easily the biggest question mark for him, but the potential makes Guice worth the risk.
Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
2017 stats: 12 games, 1,391 rush yards, 4.9 avg, 18 rush TD, 24 rec, 194 rec yards, 2 rec TD
Career: 36 games, 2,494 yards, 4.8 avg, 32 rush TD, 55 rec, 478 rec yards, 2 rec TD
One of the weakest stat lines on the list, Johnson isn’t a flashy, highlight-reel player. He’s what Jon Gruden would call a “grinder”. Watch his tape against Alabama last season and you’ll see what Johnson brings to the table. He’s a tough runner that fights for those extra yards and plays through pain, very Frank Gore-esque. If Detroit waits until day three to draft a running back, Johnson’s the best option.
Ronald Jones, USC
2017 stats: 13 games, 1,550 rush yards, 5.9 avg, 19 rush TD, 14 rec, 187 rec yards, 1 rec TD
Career: 40 games, 3,619 rush yard, 6.1 avg, 39 rush TD, 32 rec, 302 rec yards, 3 rec TD
Jones is one of the smallest backs at the combine at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, which is worrisome. He has a similar style to the Lions’ current backs making him the best fit, scheme-wise, for Detroit. He can be that dynamic pass catcher that can make an impact in the outside run game. He has great vision and is able to make men miss in space.
Sony Michel, Georgia
2017 stats: 14 games, 1,227 rush yards, 7.9 avg, 16 rush TD, 9 rec, 96 rec yards, 1 rec TD
Career: 47 games, 3,613 rush yards, 6.1 avg, 33 rush TD, 64 rec, 621 rec yards, 6 rec TD
Explosive. That’s what comes to mind when you hear Michel’s name. His 7.9 yards per carry is a testament to that. The second half of the dynamic duo at Georgia, Michel gets yards in bunches and is a big-play threat anytime he’s on the field. Outside of Saquon Barkley, Michel is the draft’s most well-rounded running back.
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
2017 stats: 13 games, 2,248 rush yards, 7.8 avg, 23 rush TD, 19 rec, 135 rec yards, 2 rec TD
Career: 51 games, 3,656 rush yards, 7.5 avg, 38 rush TD, 42 rec, 479 rec yards, 6 rec TD
A Heisman Trophy candidate his senior year, Penny ran all over the Mountain West conference. He rushed for over 100 yards in 10 games and over 200 in six, including five straight to end his 2017 campaign. It’s hard to know what he can do against quality, NFL-level talent, seeing that the MW isn’t pumping out players like the SEC, but the talent level is there.
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
2017 stats: 14 games, 596 rush yards, 4.8 avg, 8 rush TD, 17 rec, 109 rec yards
Career: 31 games, 1,512 rush yards, 5.7 avg, 20 rush TD, 21 rec, 131 rec yards
Surprisingly, Scarbrough decided to forgo his senior year and enter the draft. He’s easily the weakest prospect of this bunch. However, the 21-year-old would be a great, late addition to the Lions roster. He’d be the muscle to compliment Abdullah and Riddick’s finesse. He isn’t a high-end talent, but can be used to slowly chip away at defensive fronts and would be a solid goal line option.
Will Hernandez, G, Texas-El Paso
The 6-foot-2, 327 pound big man out of Conference USA, Hernandez would be an ideal second-round pick for the Lions. His length is a bit of a concern, his 32-inch arms are nearly an inch and a half shorter than the average and he stands about two-and-a-half inches shorter than the average, which poses some issues, but with his strength (he repped 225 pounds 37 times, more than any other lineman at the combine), he will absolutely bully the man across from him.
Billy Price, C, Ohio State
It’s unknown if Price will be able to participate in field drills after suffering an injury during the bench press. However, he is another option, outside of Hernandez, for Detroit to grab in the second round. A hyperactive player, Price’s impatience can get him in trouble at times, but with some coaching, he’ll learn to be more disciplined. Price plays mean, he has that old-school, “big-ugly” mentality coaches love to see.