It is often one or two plays that determine the outcome of a game. Those one or two plays are often set in motion by a single player having the best or worst day of his life. I am going to fill the void between OTAs and training camp by covering a few of the Lions players, and the key thing that player needs to do to set the Lions season on the course to success: how that player can be one of the Lions’ keys to victory in 2016. Today I’m taking a look at second year running back Ameer Abdullah, chosen 54th overall in the last draft of the Mayhew era. Mike Mayock had this to say about him prior to the draft, “Abdullah is outstanding in the passing game.” and added “He is really good in the zone run game. He has breakaway speed. If he hits the hole, he’s gone.” All that was true, but there was one thing about Ameer Abdullah that had many teams questioning whether or not they should draft him.
What does Ameer Abdullah have to do in 2016?
Ameer Abdullah had an electric season as a rookie in 2015. He was the Lions’ best all around running back, leading the team in yards per carry and rushing yardage. He was far and away the best kick returner on the team, and among the best in the league. Ameer Abdullah was everything the Detroit Lions needed a running back to be in their offense, capable between the tackles, as an outside runner, as well as a more than capable receiver out of the backfield. There was only one problem with Abdullah’s season, and it was one that could have been predicted: he fumbled. Ameer Abdullah’s ability to hold on to the ball is what will be the determining factor of his success or failure in 2016, and going forward. A huge part of the trouble the Lions had rushing the ball last season was the limited number of snaps he was getting on offense. Joique Bell was not fully recovered from injury, limiting him to a plodding and ineffective output, and Theo Riddick was so poor rushing the ball that teams had no reason to respect the threat of the rushing attack while he was on the field. If you can ignore the horrendous run blocking that the offensive line put out there for the majority of the season, you have what should have been an opportunity for the rookie to shine as the only back explosive enough to overcome that bad blocking. Unfortunately the least one-dimensional back the Lions had was seeing less than 1/3 of the snaps that the offense took in the majority of games last season, and the reason was that he was never fully trusted after a spree of fumbles. Abdullah put the ball on the ground five times last season. In the first six weeks Abdullah exceeded 30 snaps in four games. In the last ten games he did not reach that mark a single time, despite his yards per carry and pass blocking grades (as per PFF) increasing for the most part as the season went on.
Turnovers are unacceptable from running backs
The NFL has very few true number one running backs anymore, most teams favoring a platoon of capable specialist backs. Abdullah is a player with the potential to be one of those number one backs if he can overcome this one problem. While short yardage specialist Stevan Ridley may very well poach carries from Abdullah in obvious running situations and Theo Riddick will certainly be on the field in many blatantly obvious passing situations, Abdullah’s versatility and multi-situational fit should put him at the top of the depth chart. He should be the team leader in snap count most weeks if the Lions are trying to avoid tipping their hand. The only thing that can prevent this ideal scenario, aside from injury (Abdullah is recovering from off-season surgery but expected to be ready for training camp), is Abdullah continuing to erode the coaching staff’s faith in him by putting the ball on the ground. I have said on Reddit, Twitter, and this site previously that I think the player most likely to reach a thousand yards rushing for the Lions is Stevan Ridley, but in an ideal world he does not; because he doesn’t get enough carries to do so. For the team’s offense to reach its full potential Ameer Abdullah needs to be the most deployed running back in Detroit for 2016. This makes Abdullah’s ability to hold on to the ball one of the Detroit Lions keys to victory in 2016.
You can find me on /r/detroitlions and on Twitter @a5hcrack. Next up I’ll be taking a look at how Laken Tomlinson, the Lions first round pick in the same draft in which they acquired Abdullah, can be one of the Lions’ keys to victory in 2016.