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

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In the Fantasy Court Series, two of the writers for The Fantasy Footballers choose sides on a player and present their argument to help you decide whether or not you should be drafting these players at their average draft position (ADP).  It’s important to acknowledge that draft cost is the most important factor when it comes to loving or hating a fantasy player come draft day. Today’s case is all about D’Andre Swift, who finished the 2020 season as the RB18 overall.  As of this writing, he’s currently valued at an average draft position (ADP) of 3.04 as RB11.  I think Swift will take a step forward this season and be used in a workhorse role.  Conversely, you can read Aaron Larson’s The Case for D’Andre Swift for the counterargument.

Opening Statement

D’Andre Swift is entering his second year after being drafted 35th overall by the Detroit Lions in 2020.  He entered the draft as the consensus number one graded RB but was drafted to an offensive that is far from ideal, especially compared to Clyde Edwards-Helaire – who was drafted three picks ahead by the Chiefs (CAN YOU IMAGINE SWIFT ON THE CHIEFS!?).  The Lions lost significant talent on offense, including Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay.  With Jared Goff now under center and a new head coach in Dan Campbell, I don’t think anyone expects the Lions to be a winning team.  Many are concerned about Swift’s ability to score points on what should be a poor offense.

Did you forget that the Lions were bad last year too?  They finished 5-11, and it can’t get that much worse.  And plenty of running backs have been successful (in fantasy specifically) on losing teams.  Swift is a rare breed.  A truly special talent.  I am all in on D’Andre Swift for 2021, and he’s currently the front runner as #MyGuy for 2021 among the Fantasy Footballers writers.

Swift could easily finish as a top-5 RB, and he’s being drafted at a value in the 3rd round.

2020 Performance

Swift finished 2020 as an RB2 in fantasy.  He did that while only seeing 40% of the running back touches over the course of the season.

Last season, he had more 20+ fantasy point games (3) than Jonathan Taylor (2), Kareem Hunt (2), Miles Sanders (2), or Chris Carson (2). In the seven games where he touched the ball more than ten times, he averaged 16.2 points per game and eclipsed 20 fantasy points three times.  He had at least three receptions every week since Week 4.  Swift was dominant when given an opportunity, despite playing on a poor Lions offense.

Swift was injured from Weeks 11-13, which is when most fantasy players stop paying attention if they don’t make the playoffs.  I truly believe Swift would have a much higher ADP without this injury.  Casual fans don’t understand just how good he is.  Swift is an elite running back…the kind of player that coaches scheme around.

Did I mention that he finished fourth in fantasy points per touch among running backs with a minimum of 100 touches last season?  Yea, he’s good.  Real good.  The film backs it up:

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Expectations for 2021

I expect Swift to see the majority of touches for the Lions backfield in 2021.  Since his return from injury last season in Week 14, he averaged 15 touches per game.  I think that is his baseline, and it’s possible that he sees closer to 20 touches.

Jamaal Williams is now joining him, and Williams is objectively superior to anyone else in the Lions backfield from last season.  Williams is a good running back, plain and simple.  But he’s no D’Andre Swift.  Swift will separate himself from the pack, but Williams will still get work.  Jamaal Williams saw 150 touches on the Packers last season, the most of his career.  If we assume Williams takes a similar number this year(which is probably the ceiling), that would still leave 250+ touches for Swift.  Due to the lack of offensive weapons, Williams can still be involved in the offense without jeopardizing Swift’s fantasy value.

The Lions drafted rookie Penei Sewell at right tackle with the seventh overall pick in April and now have a top-10 offensive line entering 2021 (according to PFF).  Enter head coach Dan Campbell, who is famously known for talking about kicking opposing teams in the teeth and biting off kneecaps.  He’s a guy that wants to play old-school football, which means establishing the run.  I don’t know much, but I do know that Dan Campbell is going to give Swift every opportunity to be a playmaker for the Lions.  He has the talent and drive to be successful behind a great offensive line, even when the Lions are losing.

One thing that’s guaranteed for Swift is a solid workload as long as he stays healthy.  The question isn’t about his talent…it’s about whether he can deliver on a poor offense.  And to that, I say “remember James Robinson on the Jaguars last season?  Swift is even better.”

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Swift finished as the RB18 last season while only averaging 12 touches per game.  I think he takes a step forward and sees a workload closer to 16 points per game.  If we extrapolate his efficiency from last season with 16 touches a game, we land at 16.7 points per game – which would have been good for RB5 on a points per game basis last season (min 5 games).

Swift’s ceiling is a top-5 running back, and I think his floor is safer than people realize – a middling RB2.  Swift is the perfect RB2 for your roster, and I think he’s going to be one of those players that carries people to the fantasy playoffs.

Conclusion

In conclusion, D’Andre Swift is a STEAL in the third round of drafts.  He was incredibly productive on a losing team last season.  He’s entering 2021 with an improved offensive line, a psycho coach who will likely run the ball far too often, and he’s the most talented skill position player on the roster.  Couple that with the fact that casual fantasy players know him as “the guy who was injured” for the last month of the regular season, and he’s fantasy gold.

D’Andre Swift is the perfect target for someone like me who tends to go RB heavy early in drafts.  I will be drafting him everywhere I can, and you should too!

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