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Detroit Lions could have pick of two star Big Ten running backs in second round

Lions own No. 35 overall pick -- third selection in second round

Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins
Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins (Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Lions could have their pick of two star running backs from Big Ten country when their name is called in the second round of the NFL draft.

Bob Quinn decided to address a defensive need with the No. 3 overall pick in the first round, selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.

Okudah is widely considered the best defensive back of the class and fills a need for the Lions after Darius Slay was dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles.

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But now, where will the Lions go with their second-round pick?

Protecting Kerryon Johnson

Running back is an interesting option because the roster has so many holes and the Lions already have a strong No. 1 rusher in Kerryon Johnson.

The NFL has changed in the last decade, though, and teams no longer rely on one running back for 20 or more carries per game. Last year, Johnson had 113 carries in eight games and only reached 20 carries twice.

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07: Kerryon Johnson #33 of the Detroit Lions runs for yardage against Oren Burks #42 of the Green Bay Packers during the second half at Ford Field on October 7, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07: Kerryon Johnson #33 of the Detroit Lions runs for yardage against Oren Burks #42 of the Green Bay Packers during the second half at Ford Field on October 7, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

He’s been very effective when he can stay on the field, but Johnson missed eight games last season and 10 games as a rookie. It’s fair to assume he shouldn’t be handling a mammoth workload. He’s one of the team’s most valuable offensive weapons, and they have to keep him healthy.

That’s why investing heavily in another running back should be a priority. Not only would a second-round running back give the Lions another offensive threat, it would help Johnson, who was a second-round pick two years ago.

Top options

Quinn wouldn’t have to look far to find the top available running backs in the draft. Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins is possibly the most talented runner in the entire class. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 725 touches in college, scoring 38 times on the ground and five times through the air.

Dobbins is a perfect NFL prototype. He’s strong enough to break tackles and also has good speed. He had more than 20 catches in all three of his seasons at Ohio State.

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If not Dobbins, the Lions could also take a look at perhaps the most accomplished college running back of all time: Jonathan Taylor.

In just three years at Wisconsin, Taylor rushed for a ridiculous 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per rush and his worst production came as a freshman when he gained 1,977 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.

Last season he also added receiving to his arsenal, catching 26 passes for 252 yards and five touchdowns.

No college running back has ever been more consistent than Taylor was in three years at Wisconsin.

Does it make sense?

It’s possible Dobbins and Taylor could be picks No. 33 and No. 34 -- the only scenario in which the Lions don’t have a chance to take either. But that’s highly unlikely, so Quinn will have a decision to make.

Since Matt Patricia arrived, the Lions have used Johnson and others to commit heavily to the running game. At times, it’s really opened up the offense. When Johnson is hurt, however, it’s not close to the same.

Dobbins and Taylor have the potential to be even better than Johnson, and teams could have justified taking them in the first round. If the Lions decide to make one of them their second-round pick, it would be a big boost to the offense.


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