When it comes to the Detroit Lions’ running back position, Barry Sanders is the first name that comes to mind. The Lions have been searching (and praying) for the next Barry.
Having said that, there will only be one Barry Sanders. It is time for Lions fans to change the way they think about running backs. Sanders spoiled fans for 10 years. At this point, Detroit would settle for a top 15 rushing offense.
With Matt Patricia taking over, time will tell the approach he takes at the running back position. Will he implement a New England-style stable of running backs or an every-down back?
Running Backs Coach
David Walker returns to the team for his third season as the running backs coach in Detroit. He came to Detroit due to his familiarity with Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis. Walker was the running backs coach with Jim Caldwell during his final year in Indy (2011). In 2016, he joined the Lions staff under Caldwell.
Familiarity is also what earned him a spot under Matt Patricia. Patricia and Walker coached together from 2001–03 at Syracuse. Evidently, Patricia is surrounding himself with familiar faces.
This could pay off in a quick turnaround for Lions fans. Chemistry across the board, from top to bottom, is necessary in order for a true team mentality. It creates more optimism within this organization when there is already a strong foundation in place for success.
Abdullah was a controversial pick among Lions fans in 2015. The Lions drafted Abdullah in the second round. Consider the hindsight mentality of David Johnson being drafted in the third round and many fans feel even more like they missed.
Although he has big-play ability, the biggest concerns over Abdullah were ball security and durability. Three years into his career, these remain concerns as he has trouble with holding onto the ball in key moments and missed nearly the entire 2016 season due to a foot injury.
He has accumulated 1,250 yards on 326 carries (3.8 yards per carry) with six rushing touchdowns in his three seasons. Abdullah has played in 32 games for an average of about eleven per season. These numbers do not meet the expectations of a second-round draft pick.
Theo Riddick has arguably been the most productive back Detroit has had since Sanders retired.
His pass-catching ability sets him apart from the other backs on the roster. This ensures a consistent presence in the offensive gameplan, whether as a third-down back or split out as a wide receiver.
Considering the new coaching staff and similarities on paper to New England, Riddick’s versatility mimics that of the running backs in New England’s system.
The Other Guys
Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and Tion Green all bring different sklllsets to the table.
Zenner is more of a one cut, between the tackles type of runner. Washington has flashed ability with his size and speed, but has been inconsistent and only played in five games last season.
Green came on strong at the end of last season and brought a tough-nosed mentality to the Lions backfield. Green averaged 3.9 yards per carry in his five games, amassing 165 yards and two touchdowns.
The 2018 NFL Draft running back class is very deep and the Lions could very well add another playmaker to compete. Looking at this past season and the success rookie running backs have had, there is hope the city of Detroit may finally get a workhorse again to take pressure off Matthew Stafford and the passing game.
The Lions could add to the running back position anywhere in the draft. The dream scenario would be if they could somehow trade up (without selling too much) for Saquon Barkley out of Penn State.
However, more realistically, it would not be surprising to see them add a player such as Derrius Guice (LSU), Sony Michel (Georgia) or Kerryon Johnson (Auburn) within the first two rounds. In the middle rounds, they may target Akrum Wadley (Iowa) or Josh Adams (Notre Dame). Do not be surprised if they take a chance on a late-round sleeper at running back like Ito Smith (Southern Miss).
It is a key position in any offense, and it should be fun to see how the Detroit Lions’ running back position comes together next season.
Featured image by Mike Mulholland, mlive.com
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