A little over a month ago, D’Andre Swift was walking off the field next to his coach, Matt Patricia. After a promising NFL debut against the Chicago Bears, his day ended in football anguish, dropping a pass in the end zone that could have given the Detroit Lions a win.
The question then was how would the rookie second-round pick from Georgia handle it. It was a big moment. The Lions, though, didn’t lose faith in him, didn’t pull him from the lineup. And on Sunday, in what was really a must-win game against Jacksonville for Detroit’s season to remain realistically alive, Swift responded with his best performance as a pro.
“I know that’s not me as a player,” Swift said, reflecting back to the gaffe against the Bears. “So just going back and showing everybody else that I know that.”
There’s little question about that now after a 14-carry, 116-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 34-16 win over Jacksonville that was easily his best game as a pro. And it was a game that also further pushed forward an argument Swift should be receiving even more work in Detroit’s backfield going forward.
Swift’s role has vacillated by the week in Detroit -- some games working in a split-share with Adrian Peterson and other weeks relegated to a pass-catching role with little usage in the run game. Consider entering Sunday, Swift had 12 carries combined over four games -- two fewer than he had Sunday against the Jaguars.
He came close to tripling his yardage total in the first four games of the season. And it wasn’t like he was perfect on the day. He had a miscommunication on a pass play with Matthew Stafford that could have grown his day further, too.
“The thing I like about him is that nothing really fazes him,” Stafford said. “He made a mistake like that and he just keeps it moving and knows he’s going to make plays like that later in the game. He’s got a lot of confidence in himself and his teammates.
“We have a lot of confidence in him, really all the guys on this team. Just another big part of it and did a really nice job as a young guy.”
He’s the team’s best pass-catching back. He’s also the team’s fastest back. Detroit, at the moment, doesn't have a back on the roster who can do what Swift did on his 54-yard run, when he took a sliver of a hole, made one cut and sprinted down the field -- at his fastest going 20.7 miles per hour according to NFL's Next Gen Stats -- for a massive field-flipping gain. Those are the types of plays Detroit needs from its run game.
Swift's role should grow as the weeks go on. While Patricia wouldn’t commit to a larger role for his rookie going forward -- pointing to how he brought Kerryon Johnson along two years ago -- it’s clear Detroit needs to find a way to use Swift more.
And using Johnson as an example from his rookie year, after the fifth game of his rookie season, during which Johnson had 12 carries, Johnson then had 12 or more in every game except for one before suffering a season-ending injury against Carolina.
So using that as a bar, it’s reasonable to think Swift might end up in a full time-share with Peterson going forward. Peterson didn’t have his best game Sunday with 2.7 yards per carry, but he had 15 touches. And this seems like a fair split for a young player they are trying to bring along and an older one they would want to keep fresh.
Patricia wouldn’t commit to that, either.
“We’re just proud of the guys for winning today,” Patricia said. “I’m proud of the guys for doing a great job in winning the game. We’re not going to go bigger than that now.”
Soon, though, Swift might push the Lions into playing him even more because based on what he did against Jacksonville, all of the elements are there for him to be a three-down force in the backfield.