Running back was a position of strength for the Detroit Lions in 2021, and success in third down metrics further shows it.
In 2021, the Detroit Lions had their best rushing attack in a long time. The streak of years without a 1,000-yard rusher continues to 2022, but D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams both topped 600 yards on the ground and practice squad callup Craig Reynolds was a capable fill-in when called upon.
After outlining how quarterbacks did on third down during the 2021 season, David Dorey of The Huddle has now done the same for running backs to determine the “Kings of third down” at that position. Third down conversions include touchdowns on the down.
The Lions were second-to-last in the league in third down conversion rate on the season (34.7 percent), which isn’t too surprising all things considered. But those struggles to keep the chains moving can’t be pinned on their top two running backs.
Detroit Lions top two running backs performed well on third down
Using a minimum of 10 attempts to offer a more comfortable sample size, Swift and Williams were top-15 in third down rushes (Swift-21; ninth, Williams 17; 14th) and combined for 17 first down conversions on those 38 attempts (44.7 percent).
In third down yards per carry, Swift came in tied fourth overall (with Aaron Jones) at 7.3 yards per tote. Bump it up to at least 20 third down carries, and Swift takes the top spot in yards per carry.
In third down rushing success rate, there’s Williams, tied for 11th at 65 percent (11-for-17).
Down to third down receptions, Swift finished tied for fifth with 13. He was also tied for 13th in third down yards per catch (9.3, with Austin Ekeler), and tied for ninth in third down reception success rate (62 percent; eight first downs).
In the overall third down running back success rankings, carry volume hurt Swift as he came in 36th among 44 qualifiers. But Williams tied for eighth in overall third down success rate (60 percent, with one first down on three third down receptions), as one of only nine backs with a success rate of at least 60 percent.
Overall, Swift and Williams combined to convert 26 of 54 third down runs and catches (48.1 percent). Take that away, and the Lions were 48-for-159 on third downs in 2021 (30.2 percent).