2017 Season Position Overview: Running Backs Cause Headaches In 2017

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One Of The Biggest Headaches For The Detroit Lions In 2017 Was The Running Backs.

While the passing game did well in 2017, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, the running game was the worst in the NFL. One of the most talked about positions in the 2018 NFL Draft for the team is the running back position. The team had five running backs, and none of them were able to take the next step over the other and prove to be the teams future back.

While the running backs didn’t have much help with the offensive line dealing with injuries all year long, they still could have done better. Once again, the Lions weren’t able to get a 100-yard rusher, and former starting running back Reggie Bush is the last Lion get over 100 yards in a game, getting it during the Thanksgiving game of 2014. They look to change that in free agency, or in the draft and one (or more) of these players might be gone come when week one of the 2018 season starts, but for now it is time to look back at how the 2017 running backs did.

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Ameer Abdullah‘s Future Bleak With Detroit

From looking like the future of the team at the running back position to a player who might have to find a new home once his rookie contract is up. In his three years in Detroit, running back Ameer Abdullah has never had more than 600 yards in a season on the ground.

His 2017 season had some challenges, as he went from the starting running back, to only starting in 11 games and the media questioning former head coach Jim Caldwell about what his role with the team would be in the future, while Abdullah was frustrated with his benching. Abdullah finished the season with 552 yards on 165 carries for four touchdowns. He would see action in the receiving game too, getting 25 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.

With a Lisfranc tear injury costing him his 2016 season, Abdullah was hoping to come back a better player in 2017. He didn’t seem to be affected by the injury too much with his performance, as he hasn’t been able to take that next step as a player in the NFL and it might cost him his future with the team.

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Theo Riddick Continues To Impress

After doing well off his rookie contract, running back Theo Riddick got a contract extension before the 2017 season started, signing a 3 year deal for $12.75 million, some people were on the fence of the deal, with half in favor of the deal, the other half opposed of the deal.

Riddick had a dip in rushing yards but kept it steady when it came to being the receiving back. Riddick finished with 84 carries for 286 yards and three touchdowns but had 53 catches for 444 yards and two touchdowns.

Riddick would start five games this year with Abdullah’s benching, but he wasn’t able to showcase his own set of skills to prove that he can be the starting running back. His play would help Detroit and diverse the offense with his skill set of being able to run the ball and catch it, but it didn’t have the same impact it had in 2015 and 2016.

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Dwayne Washington Took A Step Back In 2017

Of all of the running backs that played in 2017, nobody took a step back more than Dwayne Washington. While Abdullah did lose his starting job, he still appeared in all the games he was healthy for, while Washington took a hit. From playing in 12 games in 2016 to just five games.

The only difference in the two seasons roster-wise is the addition of the other running back Tion Green, and with Abdullah slipping and nobody else stepping up, there shouldn’t have been a reason for Washington to take a cut in time unless his performance has gone down and it showed.

Washington’s 2017 season was a big dip, falling to 20 carries for 44 yards, and two catches for 14 yards. He wasn’t able to see the field that much with others just playing better football than him, and while he wasn’t blowing the team away in 2016, it was a noticeable change in his play that he might not make the cut in 2018.

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Zach Zenner’s Time Could Be Up As Well

While Washington’s play time went down, so did another running back, Zach Zenner. Zenner saw more playing time, like Washington, in 2016 because of injuries, but he was used more than Washington which shows that Zenner is the better player than Washington.

Zenner saw play time in eight games in 2017, finishing with only 14 carries for 26 yards and a touchdown. While those numbers weren’t overly impressive, he was able to find the end zone unlike Washington, but it isn’t enough that he could also be replaced before the 2018 season.

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Tion Green Was The Darkhorse Of The Running Backs

One of the running backs that got a lot of attention as the season was coming to a close was Tion Green. Green was one of the darkhorse candidates to make the 53 man roster during the pre-season and having a strong pre-season week four performance was enough to make the team.

While Green didn’t get the chance to play much with four other more experienced backs on the roster, he did finish with 42 carries for 165 yards and two touchdowns and two catches for 14 yards. He could possibly see the roster in 2018, and with an impressive 2017 with limited playing time, he might have a shot. If given more time, he could be seen as a reliable feature back in the future.


In the end, running the football wasn’t effective for Detroit. Not having a running game affected the passing game and the whole offense in general and with the performance the running backs gave in 2017, they called for change during the off-season and with free agency starting soon and the 2018 NFL Draft as well next month, changes will most likely be coming to the team.

You can’t win football games in the NFL with only a strong passing game, or only a strong running game, you have to have a good mix of both and since coming to Detroit, Stafford hasn’t had a solid running game and if he can get that running game, this team can turn around and their future could be bright.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @BKnappBlogs, find me on Reddit at /u/sportsguy4life and leave me your thoughts on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Brandon Knapp
Brandon Knapp is a senior at Central Michigan University, majoring in Journalism, minoring in Sports Management. He was born and raised in the city of Marysville, MI. He also writes for myfantasysportstalk.com and covers the Michigan Wolverines Football team (his other love). Brandon also enjoys watching the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers.