Jermar Jefferson may have a bigger role than anticipated in the Detroit Lions backfield.
Johnson, 23, was the team’s second-round draft pick in 2018. He struggled with injuries in his first two seasons, but played in all 16 games, primarily in a third down role, in 2020.
D’Andre Swift returns as the Lions’ starting running back and the team signed Jamaal Williams to be its No. 2 this offseason.
Last week, the Lions spent a seventh-round pick on Jefferson, who ran for 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman at Oregon State and and averaged a career-high 6.5 yards per carry as a junior last year.
“He’s such an instinctive runner,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said Saturday. “He has a natural feel to be a slippery, inside player. He runs hard, he just has a natural feel from a lot of inside zone stuff. But he can do all phases. Gap power stuff, inside zone stuff. But he’s just a very smooth, slippery, instinctive runner who we’re really excited about.”
Jefferson played sparingly on special teams at Oregon State, but said he routinely sat in on special teams meetings in anticipation of duties he will have in the NFL.
Johnson was known as a stellar pass protector, but he saw his production decline from 2018 to 2019, and again last year.
Adrian Peterson, who signed with the Lions late in the preseason, led the Lions in rushing yards (604) and attempts (156) last season before ceding playing time to Swift.
Swift finished his rookie season with 878 yards from scrimmage and tied for third on the team with 46 receptions.
Johnson was the Lions’ leading rusher in 2018 with 641 yards, when a left knee injury limited him to just 10 games. In 2019, he ran for 403 yards and saw his yards per attempt drop from 5.4 yards to 3.6 yards per carry. He suffered a right knee injury in 2018 that sent him to injured reserve for eight games.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions cutting Kerryon Johnson after three seasons