Top available free agent running backs for the Lions to consider

USA Today

The Detroit Lions running back room looked like a strength for the team entering the season. While the position group has performed well thus far, injuries have become an issue for the team.

David Montgomery has been the bellcow for Detroit’s offense, taking 94 carries over five games. He is now slated to miss some time due to a rib injury suffered in the game against Tampa Bay.


Rookie Jahmyr Gibbs has also missed some time due to injury. If he is to return soon, he should be the featured back for the Lions.

The only other running back on the active roster is Craig Reynolds, who has been serviceable in a backup role. Zonovan Knight is likely spending the rest of the season on injured reserve and Devine Ozigbo is sitting ready on the practice squad.

At this point in the season, there are not many free agent options available to choose from. Here are five players who could be brought in to help provide depth at running back for Detroit:

Jermar Jefferson

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It would make sense that Detroit would try and bring back a familiar face in this situation. Jefferson was a seventh-round pick by the team in 2021 and appeared in seven games for them that season.

While he wasn’t the most productive player, he did make the most of limited opportunities, scoring 2 touchdowns on just 15 carries. Jefferson did not appear in a game for the Lions in 2022 and spent the 2023 preseason with the team competing for a backup job.

He was waived with an injury settlement in September of this year and is now eligible to re-sign with the team. At this point in the season, being able to bring back a player who knows the playbook is a rare opportunity.

Benny Snell

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – AUGUST 11: Benny Snell #38 of the Detroit Lions leaps over Alex Cook #23 and Dyontae Johnson #54 of the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of the preseason game at Ford Field on August 11, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Snell is another former Lion who could find his way back to the team.

Snell was only with the team for 19 days in August of 2023 but appeared in all three preseason games for Detroit. He gained 64 yards on 14 rushes.

Snell is a strong runner who could theoretically play the same role as Montgomery. While he wouldn’t make the same impact on offense, he knows the scheme and could be a stopgap until Montgomery is healthy.

James Robinson

Detroit Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (44) tackles against New York Giants running back James Robinson (24) during the first half of a preseason at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023.

Bringing in an outside veteran presence into the running back corps may be the best option for Detroit, and James Robinson could be the guy for the job.

With 32 starts over three seasons in the NFL, Robinson has more experience than the two aforementioned running backs on this list combined. What also sets him apart is his ability to be that every-down back that Detroit needs.

Detroit was able to get a good look at Robinson during the preseason when they held joint practices with the New York Giants. Robinson only ran for nine yards in their preseason matchup.

The fact that he is still available at this point in the season could be a concern; he worked out with both the Colts and Ravens in the past month but walked away without a deal in place. If he’s healthy and capable, Detroit could use his skills as a rusher and receiver until Montgomery and Gibbs are healthy.

Dontrell Hilliard

Aug 29, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Dontrell Hilliard (25) runs with the ball between Detroit Lions defensive back C.J. Moore (49) and cornerback Amani Oruwariye (46) during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

If Detroit wants a more versatile player, the former Browns and Titans do-it-all running back may be a solid depth option.

Hilliard has nearly as many receiving yards as he does rushing over his five-year career and could factor in nicely in Detroit’s offense. He is coming off the most productive season of his career and could take full advantage of an opportunity with the Lions.

Hilliard isn’t as powerful of a runner as Detroit might need, but he is still a very capable ball carrier and could prove to be a valuable depth piece once the other Lions starters are healthy again.

He also would solve another concern for Detroit by serving as a kick returner. Hilliard has over 1,000 career return yards.

Leonard Fournette

Dec 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (28) runs the ball against Detroit Lions outside linebacker Jahlani Tavai (51) during the second quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The final option on this list for the Lions is a bit of a longshot, but it’s still an option nonetheless.

Former first-round pick Leonard Fournette is still on the market despite several strong seasons with Tampa Bay. Injuries have been a concern for him, but Detroit needs all the help they can possibly get at running back right now.

With 79 career starts and two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, he’s the most talented and experienced running back still available. If the Lions are expecting Montgomery to miss some serious time, Fournette might be their best bet.

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