AP Photo/Rick Osentoski
Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs decided to dress up like Barry Sanders during the this year’s Halloween edition of Monday Night Football.
The 12th overall pick in April’s draft didn’t have the start to his rookie season that many expected when the Lions unexpectedly drafted him as high as the organization did. But his performance over the last two weeks, including 189 yards from scrimmage during Monday’s 26-14 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, has been absolutely electric and shows the potential of what Gibbs could become as the focal point of Detroit’s offense.
The rookie’s performance eclipsed the entire Raiders’ offensive output and showed how he can be a force throughout the rest of the season, even when David Montgomery returns to the lineup.
Originally, Gibbs’ selection wasn’t well received overall. The Lions didn’t care. They were ecstatic to land him where they did. But the front office and coaching staff always viewed the former Alabama star as more than a running back prospect. He’s an offensive weapon.
“[General manager Brad Holmes], myself, the staff, the personnel department, we all fell in love with this guy a long time ago,” head coach Dan Campbell told FOX 2 Sports’ Dan Miller [h/t All Lions’ Vito Chirco]. “And, as you go through the process, it only grows. He pops off the tape, he’s dynamic, he’s explosive and he’s an unbelievable human being and a worker. And, he was at a big-time program, led them in rushing and receiving, and we just felt like he fit us. He brings an explosive element to our offense.”
Despite the obvious potential the Lions staff saw in Gibbs, an immediate impact didn’t materialize. He managed 18 or fewer touches in his first four appearances. Instead, David Montgomery served as the lead back. The veteran back carried the ball 19 or more times in the first four games. Campbell said something quite concerning when asked directly about his rotation and whether the staff envisioned him as a bell-cow back.
Detroit Lions running back David MontgomeryRey Del Rio/Getty Images
“Yes we did,” Campbell told reporters less than three weeks ago. “That was the reason for that [signing Montgomery to a three-year, $18 million contract this past offseason]. That type of guy is always going to carry the load.
Regarding Gibbs, the coach added, “The other one is the change up. He is going to get plenty of touches; that doesn’t mean those are going to be carries, though. That could be in the pass game, gadgets. To me, you always want a guy that you know can take on 25-30 carries. [Montgomery] has been all of that and then some. He is a workhorse. He is dependable. He is tough. He is quick. He is explosive. He is a finisher. I’m glad we got him.”
Montgomery’s recent absence due to a rib injury provided the perfect platform for the Lions to showcase Gibbs and the offensive blueprint for the rest of the season.
No, the rookie isn’t a thumper. After all, he’s a sub-200-pound back. But he’s more than just a gadget player, who also contributes as part of the passing game.
As noted during the telecast, over 150 of the Lions’ 222 rushing yards came between the tackles. The Lions have a big, physical offensive front. They’re going to win more times than not at the point of attack and create slivers for Gibbs to slip through the cracks.
Case in point, Gibbs’ 27-yard, third-quarter touchdown scamper showed a back capable of working his way through traffic, exploding through the smallest rushing lanes and running away from defenders with ease.
NFL @NFLJAHMYR GIBBS BREAKOUT GAME 🔥
📺: #LVvsDET on ESPN/ABC
📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/3b1HZU34bs pic.twitter.com/Tk53pg167Z
That’s a fantastic downhill run with decisive cuts. One of the knocks on Gibbs coming into the league is that he would get choppy feet around the line of scrimmage and play a little indecisively. None of those perceived slights appeared during that particular scoring jaunt.
As the late, great Matthew Perry said when playing Chandler Bing, “Oh dear god. Hold on, there’s something different.”
And that’s exactly how Lions opponents should look at Detroit’s offense from this point forward. In back-to-back games without Montgomery in the lineup, Gibbs provided 51 total touches for 315 yards and two scores. As NFL Next Gen Stats noted, the rookie created 45 yards over expected during Monday’s performance. He did so while playing 69 percent of Detroit’s offensive snaps.
There’s absolutely no way that the Lions should revert back to what the offense was at the beginning of the year. Instead, Campbell should heed his own words.
“I just think it’s rare to have a guy that you really feel like in due time can be dynamic in the run and the pass game as a halfback,” the coach said a month-and-a-half ago. “I just think there’s so much versatility with him, so between that, he fits what we do perfectly, and he has that potential to be dynamic in both areas of the offensive side of the football. It was just too good to turn down.”
Detroit Lions head coach Dan CampbellAP Photo/Paul Sancya
Should the Lions ease their 224-pound option back into the lineup when he’s healthy? Absolutely. And Montgomery can be used similarity to what everyone saw from Craig Reynolds, who’s currently serving as the Lions’ backup ball-carrier.
Reynolds spelled Gibbs and fought for some of the tough yards. As Detroit tried to salt away the game in the fourth quarter, the staff brought in the hammer. Montgomery can still be a vital component. But he doesn’t need to be the bell-cow anymore. The Lions should view him as the complementary piece, not the other way around.
Gibbs is a difference-maker and a difficult matchup. He’s capable of creating chunk plays at a moment’s notice. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson should also get a little creative and find more opportunities to get both of the team’s top backs onto the field. All of these things are possible, with Gibbs leading the way. He has now showed that the restrictor plates can be taken off for the Lions offense offense to operate at peak performance.
“You could tell he was feeling it,” Campbell told reporters after the game. “Every week he just keeps getting better and better.”
The Lions’ approach with Gibbs couldn’t be more obvious.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.