The Detroit Lions have signed a few free agents so far this offseason, but have seemingly been bargain shopping, and have not made much of a splash. Detroit’s latest signing, LeGarrette Blount, gives the team a bruising back who will help on early downs and short-yardage situations.
Blount signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal worth up to $4.5 million. The Lions’ rushing woes have been well-documented. Detroit was last in the league in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry in 2017. Blount averages 4.4 yards per carry for his career, which is a full yard higher than the stable of backs in the Motor City averaged as a unit last season.
But how does Blount fit into the Detroit offense? What does he bring to the table?
Can he really make an impact in a seemingly doomed rushing attack?
First of all, I think Blount brings great experience to the backfield. At 31-years-old, Blount definitely has a lot of wear and tear on his body entering his ninth season in the league. However, he is a three-time Super Bowl champion, including back-to-back the last two seasons. Blount also has two seasons of 1,000 yards rushing or more, and six seasons of five rushing touchdowns or more — including a league-high 18 in 2016.
Secondly, I expect him to get a lot of early-down work. His hammering running-style between the tackles makes him essentially a lock for short-yardage and goal line work. It is not a lock that he will be the starter, as he’s on the wrong side of 30 and Detroit still has several other halfbacks on the roster, including Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. With that said, even if he doesn’t “start,” we can expect him to see plenty of carries.
We still don’t quite know what offensive schemes new head coach Matt Patricia is going to be trotting out week-to-week, but we do know that schemes on both offense and defense will be tailored to the style of the players on the field. With the signing of Blount, one would imagine that the Lions could be running a lot of a “power” or “gap” plays. While the speedier players like Abdullah may see more zone-rushing plays and outside runs. But that is just a guess on my end at this point.
In addition to size, strength and experience, Blount fills a heavy need for the Lions in terms of having a running back that can actually convert short-yardage situations. According to Football Outsiders, Detroit had a power success rate of just 45 percent, which was the worst in the NFL.
Football Outsiders defines power success rate as:
“Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.”
Does the signing of Blount mean the Lions won’t draft a running back early, or at all?
No, not necessarily. It may have made things a little bit clearer in terms of draft needs for the Lions now, though. I think Detroit’s most pressing need is an interior defensive lineman, with Haloti Ngata signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. An edge rusher opposite of Ziggy Ansah is still a big need as well.
If the Lions want to take a running back in the first round, that is still on the table. Options like Derrius Guice or Ronald Jones III are very much in play at pick No. 20. However, this is supposedly one of the deepest running back classes in years, so the Lions would be wise to fill a defensive need in the first round and target a running back on Day 2, if that’s what Bob Quinn thinks they need to do.
Blount has had some off-the-field issues during his career, no doubt, but at this point in his NFL tenure he could surely help mentor a rookie running back on what it takes to be successful at the NFL level.
Once again, it’s hard to say how exactly Blount fits in the offense before we’re sure of what Patricia and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter want to do offensively, but this is our best guess heading into the 2018 NFL Draft.