Earlier this offseason I wrote about how Austin Ekeler is a compelling selection because of his receiving prowess. Targets are worth more than carries in most fantasy leagues, and targeting pass-catching running backs is an excellent way to attack the position. While Ekeler remains intriguing, D’Andre Swift looks like a superiorly priced arbitrage version of the veteran.
One of the goals of drafting a winning fantasy team is to identify the next superstar player before they break out. Once a player like Ekeler has already broken out, the cost to acquire the player is so high that it’s difficult to receive a solid return on investment. Swift, on the other hand, looks like a player poised to significantly outperform his cost.
Swift Is A Fantastic Prospect
In the 2020 NFL draft, which included superstars Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, and Antonio Gibson, only Clyde Edwards-Helaire was selected ahead of Swift at the running back position. Objectively, there were obvious concerns about Edwards-Helaire and Taylor should’ve been the first selection at the running back position.
(On a side note, consider how devastating it is that the Chiefs didn’t capitalize on their opportunity to have a Mahomes/Kelce/Hill/Taylor juggernaut for the next few seasons…)
While Taylor is a generational phenom, one can easily argue that Swift was the second-best RB prospect in the draft. Frequently mocked as the first running back off the board, Swift combines excellent speed with a 212-lb. frame.
As a true freshman, he rotated in with top NFL draft picks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. As a sophomore, he hit a 55 percent dominator rating (percentage of your team’s yardage production) while finishing third on the team in receiving. Swift is an excellent athlete with the size and production to be an every-down back.
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Swift Dominated When Receiving Opportunities
Swift looked superb as a rookie, but the Lions coaching staff inexplicably chose to play Adrian Peterson far more than his play warranted. Due to the lack of playing time (and potential competition this season), fantasy owners seem to be questioning his talent.
Let’s see how Swift performed on a per touch basis as a rusher.
Sorted by Apex’s one-year average draft position, here are players being drafted before Swift. Although Swift had the lowest rushing fantasy points per game (aside from Ekeler), only Dobbins outscored him per touch. Obviously, the eight touchdowns on just 114 carries buoy his value per rush but they should also provide evidence of how explosive Swift is as a rusher.
Let’s see how he fared as a receiver.
Dobbins immediately stands out as the player with a lack of a receiving workload. Ekeler averaged the most receiving fantasy points per game, while Swift averaged more yards per target than Ekeler and matched him in terms of receiving points per touch. To be as efficient of a receiver as Ekeler as a 21-year-old rookie is quite impressive.
When combining the workloads from last season, below is the result.
In terms of rushing and receiving points per game, Mixon leads the group. If we add up the fantasy points per rush and target, Swift leads the group with 2.52 fantasy points (the rushing and receiving points are divided by rush attempts and targets prior to being added). This is important because the fact that Swift’s workload is skewed towards receiving does not affect the outcome. It’s clear that Swift was extremely productive as a rookie.
I don’t think there should be any questions about his talent. Adding ammunition, there’s a predictable jump in production for second-year running backs. The fact that he was a 21-year-old rookie makes him the kind of player that looks ready to make the jump to superstardom.
When you combine all the peripherals from his rookie year production to his impressive college profile and draft position, the potential for superstardom becomes abundantly clear.
The Lions Need a Superstar To Feed
Now that we have evidence to show that D’Andre Swift can become a star, let’s examine his outlook for the 2021 season. The Lions had a ton of turnover on their roster this offseason.
Thus far, out of players with at least 100 receiving yards, only T.J. Hockenson, Quintez Cephus, and Swift are returning to the Lions. As a rookie running back who appeared in just 13 games, Swift finished 4th in receiving last year.
The Lions added multiple receivers including Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Kalif Raymond, but they don’t exactly move the needle a whole lot. With zero Pro Bowl-caliber free-agent additions, the Lions need dominant players to feed the ball to.
While Hockenson’s ADP is receiving the benefit of a lack of other options, drafters are fading Swift when compared with his fellow sophomore running backs despite the targets that he’ll almost surely gain.
Here’s a look at how Detroit’s running backs performed on the ground last year.
It was clear to whoever watched the Lions that Swift deserved much, much more work. That’s backed up by his yards per carry metric where he outrushed both backs by a significant margin. Peterson and Johnson are gone – clearing out 208 carries.
This offseason the Lions added Jamaal Williams and drafted Jermar Jefferson in the 7th round. Drafters are worried about Williams after Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn referred to Williams as “a classic ‘A’ back.”
“My ‘A’ backs are normally my bigger backs,” Lynn continued. “They can run between the tackles, block probably a little better than a ‘B’ back, they can also run the perimeter. I can leave those guys in there for all three downs.”
After reading Lynn’s comments about his “bigger backs”, let’s compare Swift with Williams.
|Player||Age||Pick||HT (in)||WT||BMI||40 Time||Burst|
The two weigh the same amount and Swift is four inches shorter, leading to a much stronger BMI. Swift is also a significantly better athlete, is nearly four years younger, and was selected almost 100 picks earlier.
Statistically, the two don’t even compare. As a rookie in 13 games, Swift had more yards and touchdowns than Williams has had in any season. Even playing with Aaron Rodgers, Williams has never topped Swift’s rookie year rushing efficiency. Williams is a high-end backup, but shouldn’t be thought of as a significant roadblock to Swift.
We want to bet on Swift because he’s a discounted player that remains a potential superstar on an offense that needs players to feed. He showed the rushing and receiving abilities to earn a workload that can make him a dangerous player in PPR leagues.
If scared off by training camp reports of inferior talents stealing work, you would have missed on a buying opportunity when Christian McCaffrey’s ADP was suppressed for similar reasons. Many expected Christian McCaffrey would split with CJ Anderson heading into Year 2.
If you think Swift is that dissimilar to McCaffrey, look how they performed as rookies.
Obviously, McCaffrey was more involved as a pass-catcher but struggled as a rusher. On a per-game basis, Swift outscored McCaffrey as a rookie and enters a season where his team needs to use him as a workhorse. Even if they struggle to score frequently, the Lions will be playing from behind and will need to feature Swift’s explosiveness in the passing game.
Despite concerns about Jamaal Williams, rational coaching from the Lions, and drafting a player on a bad offense, the stars are aligning for D’Andre Swift. He’s an extremely talented player on a team that many have no choice but to feature him in the rushing and passing games. Embrace the volatility and draft a player that could be a superstar this season at a discount.