I bought my first car in about a decade last week.
It’s a cute little Chevy Spark with sensible gas mileage, good safety ratings, plenty of clearance to deal with Midwestern winter snowdrifts. I made sure to buy it pre-owned and certified, so I had the full maintenance history on it. I thought it a responsible choice for a soon-to-be responsible teacher and husband. As soon as I sat behind the wheel, though, something took hold of me. The feeling that this zippy little car gave me was like a mix between Ricky Bobby and the Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner; all I could think was “I wanna go fast. Meep meep!”
That’s the joy of rostering a running back like the Detroit Lions’ Ameer Abdullah — he’s small, he comes at a good price in dynasty leagues, and boy does he go fast. It appears, though, that once again speed has killed, and our mercurial friend has found himself with a foot injury and a ticket to the Detroit injured reserve.
Abdullah spent the end of last season on the shelf, too, and is starting to become a bit of a durability concern. How does his latest dent affect the Detroit Lions’ players in dynasty leagues?
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Ameer Abdullah, RB
Abdullah’s season-ending injury in 2015 was a torn shoulder that required offseason surgery, so while it’s not related at all to his foot injury, a question about his soft-tissue stability is beginning to develop. We know what Ameer Abdullah can be when healthy, and that’s an electric, Jamaal Charles-esque speed back. On 143 carries in 2015, he had a 4.2 yards per carry mark, and on 18 attempts in 2016 he was sustaining a ridiculous 5.6 yards per carry. This was the concern on him coming out, though: will his frame and play style lend itself to being a true lead running back? The pattern so far is indicating that it won’t.
Still, the Lions spent a second-round pick on Abdullah and will offer him every chance to be their primary ballcarrier when he returns, which could be as short as eight weeks from now, due to the new injured reserve rules. His long-term outlook is murky, but his next few years should be stable, even if he’s more of a 180-touch running back than a 300-touch one.
Matthew Stafford, QB
I don’t expect the Lions to pass a ton more than they already do — they have a 1.79 pass-to-run ratio, the ninth-highest in the NFL through week two. Nonetheless, the players that they have left in their running back stable are more Joique Bell than Barry Sanders, meaning explosive plays from this offense are going to need to come elsewhere. Quarterback Matthew Stafford could see a slight volume increase if Detroit shifts some of the burden of their run game to a short pitch-and-catch passing attack with wide receiver Golden Tate, like they did at the end of the 2015 season. There may be less balance in this offense in terms of explosiveness, but they will still try to keep a measure of playcalling balance; that’s offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s M.O.
Theo Riddick, RB
Theo Riddick truthers, here’s your moment: word out of Detroit is that Riddick will step in as the clear lead back in the offense after serving as solely the receiving back prior to now. Riddick is clearly better as a receiver (8.9 yards per reception) than a between-the-tackles rusher (3.2 yards per carry), but any added volume will be music to his dynasty owners’ ears. Riddick is already seeing an average five targets per game with Abdullah in the lineup, but is also averaging nine carries per game — almost quadruple his per-game rate in 2015. His current 4.6 yards per carry this year is certainly buoyed by the 21-yard touchdown scamper in week one, but there could be something there for Riddick.
Considering that he just received a three-year, $11.6 million extension this season, the Lions no doubt want to see what their almost $4 million man looks like in an expanded role. I would not be shocked to see Riddick monopolize touches between the 20’s for the rest of the season, and I’m looking to acquire him in dynasty leagues if anyone thinks they’re “selling high” right now.
Sure, we love rookies. We all love the new crops of dynasty prospects that sweep into the league every offseason, but there are reasons why Dwayne Washington was drafted behind 235 other players this April. He has all the physical attributes of a bell cow NFL running back, but injuries of his own and a lack of college production at Washington limit his upside in the near future. He will certainly function as the goal-line back, but has to work on converting his size into power and using his vision to make plays happen.
Washington’s long-term outlook improves here in theory, as the Lions will almost certainly work a power back into the backfield rotation more on early downs to help preserve Abdullah going forward. Outside of one long touchdown run, though, he is averaging just 0.8 yards per carry on five rushes.
Zach Zenner, RB
This is the biggest dark-horse threat to both Riddick and Washington’s workloads going forward. Zach Zenner dazzled in his 2015 rookie preseason and in limited usage in that regular season before going down with serious internal injuries. The reason Zenner has been inactive thus far into the 2016 season is that Washington dazzled in this preseason, and Zenner — just under a year removed from his injuries — did not. While a 3.5 yards per carry in his rookie year may not be that impressive, Zenner has shown a massive amount of production at the collegiate level before making to the NFL. His undrafted status from the 2015 NFL Draft was solely a result of his FCS pedigree, rather than red flags.
With Washington’s preseason shine fading, Zenner could come in and function as the Joique Bell of this backfield: an uninspiring-yet-productive short-yardage rusher and versatile receiving threat. Zenner is the cheapest Detroit running back to acquire by far, and I would be doing so in all leagues. I’ve been banging the table for him since July; no reason to stop doing so now.
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