Jermar Jefferson could play a bigger role than expected in the Detroit Lions backfield.
The Lions informed running back Kerryon Johnson that he would be canceled on Thursday, a person familiar with the decision told the Free Press. NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport first reported the move.
Johnson, 23, was the team’s second-round pick in 2018. He suffered injuries in his first two seasons, but played in all 16 games, mostly in a third role, in 2020.
D’Andre Swift returns as the Lions starting backer and the team have signed Jamaal Williams to be their No.2 this offseason.
Last week, the Lions passed a seventh-round pick over Jefferson, who ran 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie at Oregon State and averaged 6.5 yards per carry as a junior in the last year.
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“He’s such an instinctive runner,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said on Saturday. “He has a natural feel of being a slippery player, on the inside. He runs hard, he just has a natural feel of a lot of things inside the zone. But he can do all the phases. Gap power stuff, inside zone stuff. But he’s just a very smooth, slippery, instinctive runner that we’re really passionate about. “
Jefferson has played sparingly on Oregon state special teams, but said he regularly attends special team meetings in anticipation of his NFL duties.
Johnson was known as a stellar pass protector, but he saw his production drop from 2018 to 2019, and again last year.
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Adrian Peterson, who signed with the Lions late in the preseason, led the Lions with rushing yards (604) and attempts (156) last season before relinquishing playing time to Swift.
Swift finished his rookie season with 878 yards of scrimmage and tied for third on the team with 46 receptions.
Johnson was the Lions’ top runner 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 reserve for eight games.