Fantasy Court: The Case Against D’Andre Swift in 2021

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This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court series. For the opposing view be sure to check out The Case for D’Andre Swift by Jeff Greenwood.

Opening Statement

First of all, it’s great to be back in the fantasy court. Last season I was clearly successful when arguing for Aaron Jones and against Matthew Stafford. Unfortunately, I will not be taking questions on my anti-Calvin Ridley case at this time.

I’m on to 2021, where for some reason D’Andre Swift’s average draft position is approaching RB1 territory. That’s a steep price to pay for a running back facing an uphill battle in 2021. Let me take this opportunity to spell out the case against D’Andre Swift this season.

A Bad Team

I’ll start the case by presenting you the Detroit Lions, a team that has been in the bottom half of the league in total points scored for three consecutive seasons. Keep in mind, 40 of the 48 games over those three seasons were played with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Stafford will be starting for the Rams in 2021 while Jared Goff takes the quarterback reigns in Detroit, unanimously considered to be a downgrade at the position. They’re also replacing Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola with Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, and fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown. I don’t think I need to explain any further, the Lions’ offense was bad last year and it’s going to be worse this year.

Swift, the subject of this case, will be directly affected by this poor offense. Top fantasy running backs typically come from high-scoring, or at least competent, NFL offenses. The table below shows last season’s top-12 running backs and where their team’s offenses ranked in total scoring.

RB Finish Player Team Offensive Scoring Rank
RB1 Alvin Kamara NO 5
RB2 Derrick Henry TEN 4
RB3 Dalvin Cook MIN 11
RB4 David Montgomery CHI 23
RB5 Aaron Jones GB 1
RB6 Jonathan Taylor IND 9
RB7 James Robinson JAX 30
RB8 Josh Jacobs LV 10
RB9 Nick Chubb CLE 14
RB10 Kareem Hunt CLE 14
RB11 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 17
RB12 Antonio Gibson WAS 25

As you can see, 75% of RB1s came from teams with scoring offenses in the top half of the league. If you believe that the Lions are going to be in the bottom half of the league offensively, which all evidence suggests. you should be avoiding Swift this fantasy draft season. 

A Running Back by Committee

OK, there are always exceptions. In the table I referenced earlier, four running backs from bottom-half offenses broke through to finish as RB1s. Three of them, David Montgomery, James Robinson, and Ezekiel Elliott, were treated as true workhorse running backs. They each had at least 240 carries.

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Swift doesn’t profile as a bell cow and Detroit isn’t building their team to utilize him that way. They spent six million dollars to bring in Jamaal Williams in free agency. Then offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn dropped this quote earlier in the offseason:

“Jamaal is what I’d call a classic ‘A’ back,” Lynn told Chris Burke and Nick Baumgardner of The Athletic. “I like to break the backs down into ‘A’ and ‘B’. My ‘A’ backs are normally my bigger backs. They can run between the tackles, block probably a little better than a ‘B’ back, they can also run the perimeter. I can leave those guys in there for all three downs.”

It may just be coach speak, but it sure sounds like Lynn plans to use multiple backs in the offense. Detroit even kicked the tires on Todd Gurley earlier in the offseason and may still add him, or another back, to further muddy up the backfield picture. Don’t expect Swift, or any Detriot running back for that matter, to carry the ball over 200 times in 2021. 

The Draft Cost

Let me be clear. D’Andre Swift is a great football player. I’m not arguing that. He may even finish as a top-24 fantasy running back, but he’s currently being drafted as the RB14 early in the third round of fantasy drafts. He essentially kicks off the “running back dead zone” that’s making so much buzz in the fantasy community this summer.

When you select Swift in this zone, you’re likely forgoing better options at wide receiver. If you must draft a running back in this zone, at least look for one that projects to be in a good offense, like Clyde Edwards-Helaire or J.K. Dobbins, or one that projects as a workhorse back, like Najee Harris. All three of these backs are being drafted after Swift as of this writing in late June.

Closing Statement

I could go on and mention how, according to the strength of schedule tool in the Ultimate Draft Kit, Detroit has the eighth-most difficult fantasy running back schedule. I could mention the serious concussion that cost him three games last season. I could repeat everything Lauren Carpenter brought up when she recently highlighted him as a potential bust candidate for 2021.

But let me close with this:

D’Andre Swift is destined to be part of a running back committee on a bad offense in 2021. If you spend one of your first four fantasy draft picks on him, you’re likely missing out on a better fantasy option and ultimately hurting your fantasy team.

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