Ameer Abdullah is an often forgotten player. He had a solid, but underwhelming rookie season in 2015 (780 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns), and then missed all but the first two games in 2016 (158 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown). However, Abdullah is an immensely talented running back and it should surprise nobody if he has a breakout season this year.
He is just two years removed from his college career at Nebraska, where he had 5126 yards from scrimmage over a three year period. At the 2015 NFL combine, he had the best score of all running backs in the vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and the 60-yard shuttle. Here are the things that Abdullah will bring to the Detroit Lions in 2017.
Abdullah Is The Most Talented Running Back On The Lions:
As I mentioned before, he is an elite physical prospect as shown by his combine performance. Although he doesn’t have great straight-line speed (he ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash), he is arguably the quickest player on the Lions entire roster. This translates to the running game in a very good way.
Detroit did not have a great run blocking line for either of the last two years and although they added TJ Lang and Rick Wagner, those guys are more known for the pass blocking than their run blocking. Because of Abdullah’s quickness, he does not need great run blocking, he has the ability to create space all on his own. This was demonstrated against the Colts and Titans in 2016.
Besides his physical traits, Abdullah has good vision when running with the ball. This shows up not just when he is handed the ball, but also when is he catching passes and returning kickoffs. Abdullah does a tremendous job of following blockers and finding running lanes. Vision was one of the largest weaknesses of Detroit’s running backs last season, so having a running back like Abdullah with vision as one of his strengths should be very refreshing.
In Abdullah’s rookie season, the Lions tried to ease him into the lineup. He was not handed the starting job from day one, he had to earn his playing time. Abdullah didn’t receive the majority of the carries in many of the games in 2015, but he showed a lot of improvement as the season went on.
Over the first nine games of 2015, Abdullah only had 240 rushing yards (26.67 yards per game) and averaged only 3.53 yards per carry. Over this period, the most rushing yards he had in any game was 50, and he even had a game against Kansas City in which he only had three yards. However, over the last seven games, he totaled 357 yards (51 yards per game) at 4.76 yards per carry.
In 2016, Abdullah had 101 rushing yards in one and a half games and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Abdullah was clearly on an upward trajectory in the running game, and we should expect for that to continue into 2017.
Abdullah Also Can Have A Big Impact In The Passing Game:
In 2017, we should expect him to split targets with Riddick. Abdullah’s receiving numbers weren’t huge in 2015, but that was because most of the short passes to running backs went to Theo Riddick. Abdullah’s 2015 receiving stats were 25 catches for 183 yards and one touchdown. However, in the only full game that Abdullah played in 2016, the Lions made more of an effort to involve Abdullah in the passing game.
Abdullah caught a career-high five passes in that game and also had a career-best 57 yards with a touchdown reception. The Lions ran plays that were intentionally designed to get Abdullah involved in the passing game such as this touchdown reception.
On the play, Abdullah is lined up as the wide receiver. The Lions run a pick play, and Marvin Jones does a great job of helping to get Abdullah open. Abdullah runs a zig route and gets wide open for the touchdown. Abdullah was Stafford’s first and only read for the play, Stafford never even bothered to look for any other receivers on this play. I would expect more passing plays like this in 2017, where they are drawn up specifically to get Abdullah involved.
Ameer Abdullah Is Excellent In Special Teams:
In 2015, Abdullah was the primary kick returner for the Lions, and he excelled in that role. It is likely that he won’t be the full-time kick returner in 2017, but he could see time there in certain situations where the Lions need a big play. In 2015, he averaged 29.1 yards per kickoff return, which was good for 2nd in the entire NFL. His longest kick return was 104 yards against the Packers, which was a pivotal moment in that game.
That specific kickoff return is a great example of Abdullah’s ball carrying vision. He immediately identifies a hole in the kick return coverage and does a great job of following his blockers right through it. He is quick enough to make a few Packers miss and is barely chased down at the one-yard line. Abdullah also had a 48-yard kickoff return against the San Diego Chargers.
That kickoff return was an even better one than the one against the Packers, in my opinion. The Chargers had good kickoff coverage, but Abdullah was able to do a great job of not only finding a hole in the coverage but to accelerate through it, making several Chargers miss.
Abdullah Is Not Without His Weaknesses:
In my opinion, the biggest weakness to Ameer Abdullah’s game is his lack of straight line speed. You would be hard pressed to find anybody who is quicker than Abdullah, or better at creating their own space, but Abdullah is going to rarely break off long runs. Abdullah ran 4.6-second 40-yard dash, which is pretty slow for a running back. He had many big plays throughout his career where he is chased down from behind and tackled. I would expect this to continue throughout his entire career.
Another one of the biggest knocks against Abdullah is that he is prone to fumbling. In his rookie season he fumbled five times, and in college he fumbled 24 times. He appeared to get his fumbling issues under control for the most part during the second half of 2015 and the early parts of 2016, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Lastly, Ameer Abdullah is coming off a major injury, and that is always a concern. He had a foot injury in the 2nd quarter of the week two game against the Titans last year that ended his season. He also tore his labrum in week 15 of 2015 and had surgery on it in the offseason. In 2014, he suffered an MCL sprain against Purdue. At some point in each of the last three seasons, Abdullah has been injured. Hopefully, his injury issues are behind, but this is another thing to keep an eye on for the 2017 season.
Ameer Abdullah is easily the most talented running back on the Lions roster. If he puts it all together, he could be the Lions 3rd 1000 yard running back since Barry Sanders retired. He has great vision and elite quickness in his game, while also being able to contribute in the passing and running game. The biggest question this year is going to be if he is able to stay healthy. If he does, it will be a huge boost to the Lions offense and could give Detroit a consistent running game for the first time in the Matthew Stafford era.
2017 Statistics Prediction: 800 rushing yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 6 rushing touchdowns, 30 receptions, 250 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, 5 fumbles.