Lions pick Johnson & Walker in second day of NFL Draft
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 11: Kerryon Johnson #21 of the Auburn Tigers rushes against Tyler Clark #52 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (WJBK/AP) - It's been nearly two decades since Barry Sanders last took the field for the Lions, and it feels like Detroit's running game has been flailing ever since.
The latest potential solution to that problem -second-round draft pick Kerryon Johnson of Auburn - was 1 year old when Sanders played his final season.
"I wish I was alive during that time to really get to watch him in person," Johnson said. "He's a fantastic, fantastic running back. And just going to the same organization as him is awesome, it's like a dream come true."
The Lions selected Johnson on Friday night after trading up to the No. 43 pick in a deal with New England. Detroit hopes Johnson can boost a running game that ranked last in the NFL last season. The Lions haven't had anybody rush for 100 yards in a game since 2013.
Detroit took safety Tracy Walker of Louisiana-Lafayette in the third round.
"Really great to add a powerful runner in the second round and a versatile defensive back, primarily a safety, in the back end of the defense," general manager Bob Quinn said. "We're very excited about both of those guys."
Johnson ran for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns last season despite missing two games with an injury, and the talented running back decided to skip his senior season to enter the draft. The Lions drafted offensive lineman Frank Ragnow of Arkansas in the first round Thursday night, and the addition of Johnson could add balance to Detroit's Matthew Stafford-led offense.
The Lions also added free agent running back LeGarrette Blount earlier in the offseason.
"As you guys know better than anybody, I don't think we've been the most balanced offense here the last few years, right?" Quinn said. "So I think that was a priority in the offseason, to improve the running game."
The Lions have been down this road before. Sanders played his final season in 1998. Since then, Detroit has picked five running backs in the first two rounds of the draft: Kevin Jones, Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Ameer Abdullah and Johnson. The last four of those players have been taken since 2010, but none has been able to add a consistent running threat to complement Stafford and the passing game.
"I'm happy to be a piece of anybody's puzzle," Johnson said. "I'm ready to come in and work. That's what I feel like this organization loves to do is work. That's what everybody knows Detroit for, being a hard-working city."
Detroit sent second-round (No. 51) and fourth-round (No. 117) picks to New England for the pick used to take Johnson.
The Lions took Walker at No. 82. He led the Ragin' Cajuns in tackles as a senior and is third on the school's career list in tackles by a defensive back. Walker is from Brunswick, Georgia. He went to Brunswick High School - the same school as Lions cornerback Darius Slay. Walker says he and Slay are second cousins.
Walker said he expected to be picked around the fifth round.
"I'm the type of person, I'm very conservative and I expect the worst," Walker said. "I was blessed to be drafted in the third round."
The Detroit Lions enter the third and final day of the NFL draft having yet to address their defensive front.
The Lions have only two scheduled picks Saturday, in the fifth and seventh rounds. Detroit traded a fourth-round pick to New England on Friday night, moving up eight spots in the second to take running back Kerryon Johnson .
So far, the Lions have drafted offensive lineman Frank Ragnow, Johnson and safety Tracy Walker.
Detroit could still try to add help at defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker - and the defensive line might be an even bigger priority if the team is concerned about losing pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah after this season. He's back with the Lions on the franchise tag.
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