Lions releasing running back Kerryon Johnson

Detroit News

Days after drafting a running back, the Detroit Lions are parting ways with Kerryon Johnson. The team has informed the former second-round pick he’s being waived, according to a league source familiar with the decision.

Johnson, a workhorse at Auburn, was selected No. 43 overall in 2018. Coveting an upgrade at running back that offseason, the Lions traded their second- and fourth-round picks to move up eight spots to snag him.

As a rookie, Johnson quickly made an impact, rushing for 101 yards in his third game. That snapped a 70-game, five-year streak for the franchise without a rusher topping the century mark.

Johnson was named the starter the following week, but would suffer a season-ending knee injury in Week 10 against Carolina. He finished his debut season with 641 yards on 118 carries. His 5.4 yards per carry ranked second in the NFL behind only Green Bay’s Aaron Jones.

Johnson returned to a starting role in 2019, but struggled to produce at the same clip he had his first season. He was averaging just 3.4 yards per carry when he suffered a second knee injury in Week 6, which sidelined him the next eight weeks.

Ahead of the 2020 season, the Lions bolstered their backfield by drafting D’Andre Swift and signing future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. Johnson was moved to a third-down role, which he embraced, despite far fewer touches on offense.

Most impressively, he developed into one of the NFL’s best blocking backs.

Even after the Lions replaced Peterson with Jamaal Williams this offseason, Johnson seemed like a good bet to stick, in large part due to the premium position coach Duce Staley’s put on blocking.

But Johnson’s job security suffered a big blow on Saturday when the Lions chose Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round.

The Lions had acquired that additional selection earlier in the day, and both coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes expressed genuine surprise Jefferson was still on the board in the late stages of the event.

“Jermar was actually one that early on in the process, I want to say during the first week of meetings, in February,” Holmes said. “Really impressed with, he’s such an instinctive runner. He has a natural feel to be a slippery inside player. He runs hard. He just has a natural feel for a lot of inside zone stuff, but he can do all phases. Gap power stuff, inside zone stuff, but he’s just a very smooth, slippery, instinctive runner who we’re really excited about.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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