It's Time to Buy Into D'Andre Swift

Saturday, May 15, 2021 at 7:19 pm ET

D'Andre Swift is Primed to Explode in 2021

The 2021 NFL off-season hasn't been too kind to the former Georgia Bulldog, D'Andre Swift. Trading Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff certainly didn't help matters as it relates to real-life football. The signing of Jamaal Williams also was not as it relates to D'Andre's fantasy value, at least not in the eyes of the majority. As if that wasn't enough, his second-year running back mates have experienced a much different off-season. 

Cam Akers no longer has to compete with Malcolm Brown and received a significant upgrade at quarterback. Antonio Gibson also received a significant upgrade at quarterback with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not to mention, the addition of Curtis Samuel will only help stop defenses from stacking the box. Mark Ingram left Baltimore. JK Dobbins will still have to battle it out with Gus Edwards, but it's a lot better than having to battle it out with Edwards AND Ingram. Damien Williams was released in Kansas City and Le'Veon Bell is a free agent. The Chiefs also re-made their offensive line in a big way.

And so it seems that D'Andre Swift is in the one left in the rain. But I'm here to paint a different picture for you. A much rosier picture. There are five points I’m going to make to show you there’s a lot to get excited about D’Andre Swift in 2021. 

Excellent Offensive Line

A running back's best friend is his offensive line.

Their left tackle, Taylor Decker had an 82 PFF score in 2020. By all accounts, he was excellent both in the passing game and in the running game.

Jonah Jackson was a third-round rookie in 2020 and was a starter from day one. He played well for a rookie. His PFF score was 57 in 2020. That's not a great score by any means, but he was a rookie. It's reasonable to expect a much improved second year and truly, the offensive line shortage in the NFL is here and Jackson has already shown himself to be a startable player who is very likely to get better.

At center, they're rolling out one of the best, Frank Ragnow. He had a PFF score of 80.3 in 2020 and was rated even higher for run blocking. 

The right side has seen the biggest improvement from 2020. The Lions selected the No. 1 offensive line in this year's draft, Penei Sewell out of Oregon. He will immediately be an impact player at right tackle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Tyrell Crosby will start at right guard, although rumors suggest Crosby is currently on the chopping block. The Lions are expected to be starting two excellent tackles and one of the elite centers. Swift will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. 

The 2020 Tape 

D'Andre Swift was extremely efficient as a rookie. He had 114 carries as a rookie and averaged 4.6 YPC. This was tied for 15th among running backs. It was a better YPC than Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Cam Akers, Ezekiel Elliott, Josh Jacobs, and Joe Mixon. And oh yeah, Jamaal Williams.

Swift was tied for 9th with a 7.8 YPR among running backs. This was better than Aaron Jones, Austin Ekeler, Nyheim Hines, and Melvin Gordin. And oh yeah, Jamaal Williams.

Swift caught 80.7% of the passes thrown his way. This was 10th overall among running backs with at least 35 catches. Swift also broke a tackle once every 12.7 attempts. Among running backs with at least 150 touches, this ranked 14th best. This rate of broken tackles was better than Chris Carson, Aaron Jones, Jonathan Taylor, JK Dobbin, Cam Akers, and Joe Mixon. And oh yeah, Jamaal Williams.

This level of efficiency directly correlated with his fantasy numbers. He averaged 1.11 fantasy points per opportunity. How did that rank? It was first among all rookie running backs and fourth in the entire NFL. Fantasy points per opportunity is calculated by dividing a player’s total fantasy points by the number of carries and targets they receive. Jamaal Williams was not of the three guys ranked ahead of him. 

D’Andre Swift managed to finish as the RB18 in 0.5 PPR settings. He did this despite missing three games and only playing 83 snaps out of his first four games (265 total snaps, 31%). D’Andre Swift on the season only played 48.9%. A testament to Matt Patricia’s overall incompetence. The fact that Swift managed to secure a top 20 finish despite not even playing 50% of the total snaps, being almost a complete non-factor in weeks 1-4, and missing three games because of injury shows how effective he was when he played and received the touches he deserved. Following the Lions’ bye in week five, D’Andre Swift was RB10 on a PPG basis out of all running backs who played at least six games during the span. 

Coaching History

The biggest worry right now for some fantasy owners is the Jamaal Williams signing and what that means for Swift’s volume. During the off-season, Dan Campbell and Anthony Lynn were talking about Swift as a 25-touch running back. They proclaimed him a three-down running back and now because of Jamaal Williams signing this looks questionable. But look, let’s be realistic. The Lions needed to add another running back. Jamaal Williams was that running back.

In the past three years, Jamaal Williams has averaged 115 carries and 32 catches per season. All told, Williams has touched the ball between 146-150 times per year. His touch totals have been remarkably consistent. His snap share with Green Bay over the past three years has been 48% (Aaron Jones missed 4 games in 2018), 35% in 2019, and 40% in 2020. Williams had a consistent role in Green Bay, but it was as a secondary guy. 

It's tough to use Williams' role in Green Bay or Swift's role in 2020 because both players are playing in a new scheme. With new coaches.

Dan Campbell was hired as the new head coach of the Lions. He hired Anthony Lynn as his offensive coordinator, who was the former head coach of the Chargers. So what does this tell us? 

Dan Campbell comes over to Detroit since being with the Saints since 2016. He worked his way up to assistant head coach. In 2017, the Saints drafted Alvin Kamara. That season the Saints gave Mark Ingram 230 carries and Alvin Kamara received 120. Kamara had 81 catches on 100 targets and Ingram had 58 catches on 71 targets.

In 2018, Kamara carried the ball 198 times and Ingram got the rock 138 times in 12 games. Kamara had 105 targets and 81 catches. Ingram had 21 catches on 27 targets.

In 2019, Kamara received 171 carries and Latavius Murray got the ball 146 times on the ground. Kamara received 97 targets and recorded 81 catches. Murray had 34 catches on 43 targets.

In 2020, Kamara ran the ball 187 times and Murray 146 times. Kamara had 107 targets and 83 catches. Murray had 26 targets and 23 catches.

Over the last four years when Campbell was in New Orleans, they gave their running backs 334 carries. During that same span, the Saints threw it to their running backs 144 times a year for an average of 115 catches. In total, the running backs have averaged 449 touches per season in New Orleans. 

Anthony Lynn had been the head coach of the Charges since 2017. In 2017, his running backs had 366 carries, 129 targets, and 91 catches. His running backs received 331 carries, 138 targets, and 108 catches in 2018. In 2019, they had 333 carries, 177 targets, and 145 catches. They had 389 carries, 149 targets, and 124 catches in 2020. Over four seasons, his touch totals per season come out to 354 carries, 148 targets, and 117 catches. 

The Saints and the Chargers were No. 1 and No. 2 in most targets and receptions to their running backs from 2017-2020.

But let's look at the similarities here. The Saints averaged 334 carries over the last four years. The Chargers averaged 354. The Saints averaged 144 targets; the Chargers averaged 148. The Saints averaged 115 catches and the Chargers were at 117. These are huge numbers. It is no wonder Dan Campbell hired Anthony Lynn to be his offensive coordinator. Their offensive philosophy appears to be very similar, if not identical. Over that time, Dan Campbell had Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram/Latavius Murray to work with and the Charges mostly had Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon.

The Lions have already set up their offense in a very similar fashion with D’Andre Swift likely playing the role of Austin Kamara and Austin Ekeler while Jamaal Williams plays the Latavius Murray and Melvin Gordon role. Jamaal Williams is known as more of a plodding runner, which is similar to the way Murray and Gordon run. Kamara and Swift are built almost identically. Swift ran a decently faster 40-time for what it is worth (4.56 vs 4.48). Both of these players excel in space and making people miss. 

Looking at the splits from Campbell’s time in New Orleans and Lynn’s time in Los Angeles, we could see the Lions’ running backs carry the ball 345 times and add another 145 targets and 115 catches. And before you say the Lions aren’t going to run that much because they’re going to be losing all the time, just remember the Chargers didn’t spend a lot of time winning football games over the last four years and they still averaged 354 carries per season with Anthony Lynn. And that number was higher than the Saints who spent a lot of time winning football games over the last four years.

D’Andre Swift is going to be the lead dog here. He was better than Williams on an efficiency level in 2020. That was despite playing in suboptimal conditions in Detroit where Williams was in Green Bay. It’s fair to expect something around a 60/40 to 65/35 snap share between Swift and Williams.

Red Zone Success 

The red zone work is a big topic of discussion too. Touchdowns are going to be few and far in between for the Lions because of their likely lackluster offense. Last year D’Andre Swift received nine carries inside the five-yard line. He scored on six of them. Jamaal Williams received five and scored on one. Swift was successful on 66.67% of his carries while Williams managed just a 20% success rate for his.

If we move that out to the 10-yard line we see a similar trend. Swift received 17 carries inside the 10-yard line and scored on 8 of them, a 47% success rate. Williams received 12 carries and scored on one, an 8% success rate. Swift was much more successful in the red zone despite running behind a worse offensive line than Williams and playing in a less effective offense. I don’t doubt that Williams will receive some goal-line work in 2021, but based on what we saw in 2020 Swift will be the primary goal-line back in Detroit. 

Target Opportunity 

The Lions have 334 targets up for grabs after losing Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola in free agency. They replaced those three players with Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Perriman has a career average of 16.5 YPR. That’s very good. Tyrell Williams is at 16.1 YPR. That’s also very good. Jared Goff was 20th in yards per attempt in 2020. This does not align well with the strengths of Williams and Perriman. 

With the offense currently constructed the way that it is and what we know about Campbell and Lynn, it would appear their goal is to run their offense through D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams in a similar manner the Chargers ran their offense through Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon and how the Saints did the same thing with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Running the offense through Swift and Williams would be be a wise decision because it would play to their strengths. 

There is so much opportunity available in Detroit between the 156 carries that Adrian Peterson left behind along with his seven touchdowns. Golladay, Jones, and Amendola left behind another 334 targets. There's another work available where Swift and Williams can both be valuable fantasy assets in 2021.

The signing of Jamaal Williams was inevitable. The Lions were always going to add someone based out of necessity. What we know from Dan Campbell, Anthony Lynn, Jared Goff, and the overall offensive roster construction in Detroit tells us that both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are going to be very busy in 2021. On volume alone, D'Andre Swift looks like a very safe RB2. If you're in any PPR league, he's got RB1 upside. 

Final Stat Line Prediction: D’Andre Swift – 213 carries at 4.3 YPC (4.6 as a rookie) for 916 yards and 65 catches (82 targets) at 7.3 YPR (7.8 as a rookie) for 475 yards and seven total touchdowns. For 0.5 PPR leagues, this amounts to 233.6 points or 13.75 PPG. In 2020, this would’ve been equal to RB13 on a PPG basis.

Those statistics are based on a 17 game schedule. I believe there's a possibility D'Andre Swift eclipses those reception predictions. The Lions simply do not have any consistent weapons in the passing game. Jared Goff may learn to depend on Swift out of the backfield. The Lions have also mentioned using Swift in the slot, which is something the Saints have done with Alvin Kamara. This would unlock a whole level of upside that hasn't been accounted for here. D'Andre Swift is a player you should be looking to add in any dynasty league. In any re-draft league, he can be drafted as a safe RB2 with RB1 upside in any PPR settings. 

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