How Philadelphia shaped Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift

DETROIT -- Trying to mount a late comeback in their Week 5 game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Detroit Lions faced a first and 10 from the Vikings 43-yard line.

Down 16-6 with under three minutes left, Lions quarterback Jared Goff found running back D'Andre Swift open for a short pass to the right side. Swift caught the pass, burst up the field and squared up with Vikings cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who was in perfect position to make an open-field tackle.


Swift bulldozed Breeland at the 30, knocking the defender back five yards, before being corralled out of bounds around the 23-yard line.

“Really, I feel like it’s just a mentality. How I run,” Swift told ESPN. “God blessed me [with] a lot of ability and talent, first and foremost, but just being able to work at them type of things with knowing [defensive backs] like to go low. So, I’m gonna deliver the blow. That’s my mentality every time I touch the ball.”

That physical nature. That short-area quickness. That explosiveness. That’s all a product, Swift says, of being from Philadelphia.

“That’s where I get my mentality from. That’s why I play the way that I play,” the Lions’ second-year pro said. “It’s why I carry myself the way that I do. Philly has shaped me into this man that I am today and this football player that I’m becoming.”

On Sunday, the Philly kid will welcome the hometown Eagles (2-5) to Ford Field (1 p.m. ET on Fox) as Detroit looks to get its first win of the season.

The matchup will be the first time Swift -- who grew up a diehard Eagles fan -- has faced Philadelphia in his pro career, and the first time he’s competed against a Pennsylvania-based team since high school, when he was a standout at storied St. Joseph’s Prep.

“I’ve called him the best football player I’ve ever seen,” said Swift’s high school coach, Gabe Infante, who is now the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Temple University.

“I told him in high school, ‘you’re not just playing for a college scholarship,’” Infante recalled. “‘You’re not just trying to be an NFL football player. I think someday, you might wear a yellow [hall of fame] jacket.’”

Despite Detroit’s 0-7 start, Swift has begun to display the playmaking ability that wowed Infante and saw him make a name for himself in Philly football circles as an eighth grader.

When Infante trains the recruiting staff at Temple on what to look for when analyzing running backs, he points to one particular Swift play.

“There’s a clip of him his sophomore year in the [2014] state championship game where he runs the ball off tackle and three guys from Pine-Richland [high school] collide with him,” Infante describes. “I mean, they sandwich him and surround him, but he explodes through all three tackles and then outruns the safety who has the angle on him.

“That is the defining run because it shows the strength, the speed, the contact advantage and he’s a sophomore at the time ... a sophomore! That’s what I’m looking for.”

It’s those kinds of runs that has the Lions coaching staff excited about the 22-year-old’s potential.

“He’s dynamic and when that guys gets in space, his power in space I just think is sneaky,” said Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. “It’s real sneaky. He breaks tackles, runs people over and they don’t get up.”

Along with the trucking of Breeland, some of Swift’s highlights this season include a Week 2 sideline hurdle at Lambeau Field, in which he completely cleared Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King. And his 63-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass against the Los Angeles Rams last week, in which he darted side-to-side to lose a cluster of defenders before outrunning the rest.

“He’s a stud. We’ve got to give him the ball,” said Lions head coach Dan Campbell. “We can’t give him the ball enough.”

The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush did it in 2013, which is the longest active drought in the NFL. Detroit's run game thrived during hall of famer Barry Sanders' time with the team, leading the NFL in 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 100-yard rushing games by individual players from 1989-98.

Since 1998, they've been arguably the worst running team in the league. But Swift is looking to change that narrative.

“I take that very seriously because I know they haven’t had somebody even close to him so I try to bring that energy and bring that playmaking ability to the city,” Swift said of Sanders, who told ESPN he's "hoping for the best" for the young Lions back.

Swift, who is also a threat in the receiving game, is off to a good start. He is the first player in Lions franchise history to record 250 rush yards and 350 receiving yards in the team’s first seven games of a season, per ESPN Stats & Information research.

He's also just the fourth player to record 250 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards through a team’s first seven games over the past 10 seasons, joining the New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara (2020, 2018), the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley (2018), and former Chicago Bears star Matt Forte (2014).

Through his career, Swift has accounted for 783 rush yards and 748 receiving yards in his first 20 games. He’s just the 12th player to reach 700+ rush yards and 700+ receiving yards in a player’s first 20 career games since the 1970 merger.

That production has been the fruit of daily tutelage from Lions running backs coach Duce Staley, who previously coached (2011-20) and starred for the Eagles as a player (1997-2003).

“I can say he’s the best coach I’ve ever played for until this day,” Swift said of Staley, who Swift grew up watching as a kid. “With just how real he is and how upfront he is. He’s never gonna sugarcoat nothing. He’ll tell you what you need to hear. I see that coming into the building every single day. He’s always pushing me to be better.”

One of the main things Staley has challenged Swift to do is maintain his confidence, whether or not he’s getting the ball. Swift initially didn’t understand why that was such a big deal, but Staley saw the bigger picture.

“What does that say to your teammates when you’re loafing without the ball?” Staley said. “Once I got him to see the picture I was trying to paint, he was more on board and then what I tried to do was tap into his skillset.”

With Staley by his side, Swift -- who recently got a “Made in Philly” tattoo on his leg, and whose father, Darren, owns a bodybuilding gym on the city’s north side -- has come full circle.

The Lions have won three straight against the Eagles, one shy of matching the teams’ longest win streak against them in series history.

This one means a lot to Swift.

“I like to see the Eagles do good, but not this week,” he said with a smile.