Over the course of his first four NFL games, Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson‘s average of 5.7 yards per carry is the fifth-best in the NFL for players with as many rushing attempts as he has.
But Johnson has only 38 rushing attempts — a figure exceeded by 29 players and equaled by two more in the NFL this season.
On Sunday, the rookie from Auburn made his first NFL start and scored his first NFL touchdown — the only one on the ground for Detroit so far this season. But a week after producing the Lions’ first 100-yard rushing game since 2013 by totaling 101 yards on 16 carries in a 26-10 victory over the New England Patriots, Johnson had nine carries for 55 yards in a 26-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, leaving Detroit coach Matt Patricia facing questions about Johnson’s workload.
“I think we have a lot of really good running backs, and I think we try to use them appropriately,” Patricia said during his Monday press conference. “I think Kerryon played a significant amount of the game. He played 20 snaps at 55, that’s a good amount. Plus we had two other running backs, plus we had a couple two-minute drives in there with some other personnel packages and things like that. So there were quite a few reps in there for Kerryon.”
“We do a lot of studies on full seasons and where guys are at at the end of the season, especially running backs,” Patricia said. “You’ll find a lot of teams where guys maybe earlier in the season at a high production level, and by the time they get to the end of the season, the wear and tear of that position is pretty extreme. So you get to the end of the year and those guys aren’t maybe out there as much.
“You kind of take a look at it from a big-picture standpoint, a game-by-game standpoint, a play-by-play standpoint. We’re obviously trying to compete and win at a high level. So we want to have our best players out there at all times that we can. We feel that we have a really good, strong running back group. They’re all outstanding players, and we’re just going to continually try to improve them, just like we are every position.”
Theo Riddick has the fewest carries among the Lions’ top three running backs with five rushing attempts for 27 yards. But he’s played the most snaps at 115. Riddick is considered the best receiver and the best pass protector among Detroit’s running backs, and he’s caught 21 passes for 118 yards.
Johnson has played 104 snaps, ranging from 16 in his first game to 36 in his second. He’s rushed for 216 yards and caught 11 passes for 53 yards.
The Lions signed running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency during the offseason to a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $2 million. He’s played 70 snaps, producing 95 yards on 35 rushing attempts (an average of 2.7 yards per carry) and caught three passes for 14 yards.
Detroit has a 1-3 record in its first season under Patricia. The Lions host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday for an NFC North game before breaking for their bye week.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @AMarkG1.