If you’ve been watching HBO’s Hard Knocks series following the Detroit Lions you know just how high of expectations the Lions coaching staff has for D’Andre Swift. He is an explosive, dynamic player who is capable of creating a big play anytime he touches the ball. Despite the flashes of greatness, he has failed to put it all together for a full season so far. Some of that is due to the poor team situation in Detroit but some of it is also squarely on Swift’s shoulders.
Drafters certainly expect Swift to post the best season of his career and are taking him in the early second round as a result. By examining his upside and downside scenarios we can better understand if this is a good bet to make or not.
Reasons to Draft D’Andre Swift
D’Andre Swift is one of the better pass catching backs in the NFL and plays on a team with a win total of 6.5 which gives him a chance at a huge role in the passing game. He is also in a somewhat rare situation because although the Lions aren’t expected to be a good team, they do have PFF’s third ranked offensive line coming into the season. A strong offensive line should help ensure Swift remains an efficient player, and guarantee a level of competence for the offense as a whole.
In addition to the offensive line and high value touches in the passing game, Swift has the 5th easiest schedule and 2nd best rest differential working in his favor as well. It isn’t hard to tell ourselves a story where all of these advantages add up to a surprisingly good season for the Lions and Swift. So what would that look like statistically?
D’Andre Swift Fantasy Upside Case
Like all running backs, Swift’s upside case will primarily come down to two things: receptions and touchdowns. We can be fairly confident that he will receive at least a similar target volume to last year when he caught 62 passes, which is an awesome baseline to build from.
Last season Swift saw about 16 touches per game. He will continue to split work with Jamaal Williams but there is room for his overall volume to increase a bit. I see an upside case for Swift as somewhere in the 18.5 touch per week range. If we also assume a modest increase in efficiency over the 5 yards per touch he averaged last year it is not hard to see Swift hitting 1,500 scrimmage yards. That type of workload would likely result in 10+ touchdowns which would lock him in as a top 5 fantasy back.
If he happens to run hot on touchdowns he could challenge the best backs in the league. It isn’t the most likely scenario but I do think it is possible that the Lions offense is better than expected which raises Swift’s ceiling.
Reasons to Avoid D’Andre Swift
Historically, the best running backs usually come from good offenses, something which the Lions are not expected to be. It is possible to overcome a poor situation but when the opportunity cost is an early second round pick, it is not surprising that some fantasy managers shy away from selecting Swift.
The other thing that has become clear from watching Hard Knocks is that the Lions coaching staff really trusts Jamaal Williams. They will have no problem leaving Williams in the game for key opportunities, particularly in the red zone. This introduces a level of variance that other RBs being drafted near Swift don’t have to deal with. He could just have bad touchdown luck which would cap his ceiling for fantasy.
D’Andre Swift Fantasy Downside Case
The biggest fear for fantasy managers is Jamaal Williams stealing enough of the work that Swift is unable to keep up with the workhorse backs at the top of drafts. He could be productive on his touches but simply not see enough work to justify his cost. It isn’t a stretch to think a committee back on a bad team will underperform an early second round ADP.
Swift’s role in the receiving game gives him a solid floor but beyond that not much is guaranteed. He could easily lose work at the goal line to Williams and although we project the offensive line to be good, the running game could still be inefficient if the passing game struggles and defenses can stack the box.
A realistic downside scenario for Swift would look a lot like last year, but with fewer touchdowns. A stat line of 1,000 scrimmage yards with 5 TDs while missing a handful of games would likely put him outside the top 24 at the position.
Swift has a wide range of outcomes which makes him one of the riskier picks at his ADP. However, he has the league winning upside that we need so I still like him as a second round pick in the right builds.