Coming off a 2022 season where Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for more than 1,600 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, the Detroit Lions seemed to be in good shape at running back.
Then Williams walked in free agency, and David Montgomery was brought in from Chicago, followed by Detroit drafting Jahmyr Gibbs and trading Swift.
A confluence of factors led the Lions to revamp the running back room and make Gibbs a key part of it.
Departures of Jamaal Williams, D’Andre Swift Impacted the Detroit Lions’ Decision To Select Jahmyr Gibbs
Williams walking in free agency ultimately came as a bit of a surprise after his breakout season in Detroit. The now 28-year-old was coming off the best season of his career with 262 carries for 1,066 yards and a Lions franchise-record 17 touchdowns.
Reports differ as to how much Detroit offered Williams in free agency, but it was not to his liking as he instead signed a three-year, $12 million deal with New Orleans.
“They been done with me. I could tell,” Williams said at his introductory press conference. “The offer they gave me, I feel like was very, just disrespectful. Just showing that they, you know, really didn’t want me to be there.”
Swift posted 99 carries for 542 yards and five touchdowns on the year, but his reputation in Detroit seemed sour due to consistent injury issues.
The 24-year-old was not able to play a full season in any of his first three years, as he missed at least three games in each campaign and never emerged as the kind of difference-maker one would expect from a second-round pick.
Swift was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles on Day 3 of the NFL Draft as Detroit exchanged seventh-round picks with Philadelphia and acquired a fourth-round pick in 2025. The move came two days after they traded up to take Gibbs 12th overall.
Aiming for More Consistency, Value With Gibbs
There are a few cases to be made that the Lions could find more consistency at running back with Montgomery and Gibbs than Williams and Swift.
Williams’ age could certainly have been of concern given the propensity for running backs’ production to tail off as their careers progress.
Making a long-term investment in him at 28 vs. the 26-year-old Montgomery, who has a better track record of success, seems to be a clear choice if the money was similar.
A 21-year-old Gibbs certainly makes plenty of sense in that regard, too, given the value that can be had early in running backs’ careers on their rookie deals.
Looking for a player who could better avoid injuries than Swift has thus far was likely another key factor in the decision-making process to draft Gibbs as well.
On top of those factors, Detroit was able to add additional assets by trading back from No. 6 to 12th overall in the draft before selecting Gibbs there.
The Lions acquired the 34th overall pick in the deal, among other assets, and used it to select tight end Sam LaPorta, who is their second-leading receiver so far with 22 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown.
Getting that kind of value back in a trade makes taking a running back in the first round a bit more palatable, along with them being able to move Swift later on for future draft capital.
As for why they bought into Gibbs in particular, he burst onto the scene with the Crimson Tide last fall, racking up 151 carries for 926 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
He has shown flashes of that ability with 31 carries for 139 yards and 10 catches for 59 yards in his first three NFL games, including 17 carries for 80 yards during last week’s win over Atlanta.
Gibbs’ track record of production, relative value on a rookie contract, and team-first mentality all seem to have been crucial factors in the Lions’ decision to make him a significant part of the backfield.
“I want to win. So, I’m just going to do all the work,” Gibbs said at his introductory press conference. “I would say winning, everything comes like all the awards, and all of that comes with winning. So, once you win, all that will be taken care of.”