The revamping of the running back room has officially begun. It might not have happened with a bright-lights name or an in-his-prime rusher, but the Detroit Lions are getting exactly what they needed.
In LeGarrette Blount -- who signed with the Lions on Friday night, a source confirmed to ESPN -- Detroit gets the type of player it has clearly been looking for. All week long, the Lions have vetted running backs age 30 or older, guys who have had established careers and could give a gravitas to the Lions backfield that their current group of rushers just didn’t have.
First was Jonathan Stewart, then DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore and on Friday, Blount. And in the end, the Lions chose the back they knew the best, who had seemed like a logical fit to end up with Detroit ever since Bob Quinn took over as general manager of the Lions from New England at the start of the 2016 offseason.
And this is a carryover, too, from what the Patriots always seemed to do -- have at least one back on the roster age 30 or older to play a specific role. That could range from lead back to pass-protector to pass-catcher to short-yardage specialist. In Blount’s case, it could be a combination of a few of them.
This partnership seemed like it might happen last offseason, with the Lions seemingly needing a running back and Blount being available in free agency after a 1,161-yard, 18-touchdown year that ended with a Super Bowl win in New England. It didn’t happen then, though, and instead Blount went to Philadelphia, where he won another Super Bowl.
And the Lions floundered, having the worst run game in the league in both yards per game and yards per carry. Then, Blount became available again after a 766-yard, two-touchdown season with the Eagles.
Quinn chose not to pass on him another time -- this time with another Patriots person making decisions, too, in new coach Matt Patricia.
That Blount has been in New England can only help the Lions because he could understand how Detroit might use its backs this season. It’s clear Blount will have a role with the Lions. At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, he gives the Lions something they don’t have in their backfield right now -- a bigger back who has experience actually gaining yards when necessary, something that hasn’t happened with Detroit during the past few years.
Consider: On 88 third-down rushes in his career, Blount converted first downs on 38 of them. He scored eight times. He also averaged 2.73 yards on those 88 runs -- and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, that’s a good average if you’re trying to pick up third-and-short. Detroit struggled over and over again in that area last year.
When he’s been on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, he’s averaged 2.71 yards per carry in his career. Of his 59 career rushes there, he has picked up first downs 36 times.
He also has been effective in goal-line situations. He has 111 career goal-to-go rushes. He’s scored 34 of those times. In New England in 2016, when he had a role as a goal-line back, he scored 15 touchdowns on 41 goal-to-go rushes.
These are all areas where the Lions needed massive improvement. With Blount, that should happen with ease.
There’s also another benefit to the Lions signing Blount: understanding the culture Patricia is likely to bring. Blount is one of the few Lions players to have been with the Patriots while Patricia was there (re-signed safety Tavon Wilson is another), so he’s a guy who will understand what Patricia is trying to do and could help smooth out questions for players in the locker room.
It’s an underrated thing that’s not always discussed, but with a team trying to win now while also transitioning coaches, it’s an important one.
Blount’s signing is the signification the Lions are going to change their running back room. They might also change how they use their running backs -- although that remains to be seen with the same offensive coordinator (Jim Bob Cooter) and running backs coach (David Walker) as last season.
Bringing Blount in also should not keep the Lions from building the running back room for the future. Blount turns 32 in December. He signed a one-year deal, so he won’t be around forever. But he could be around long enough to assist whomever Detroit likely drafts in April, helping him to make the conversion from college rusher to successful professional one.