Theo Riddick Is One Of The Top Pass Catching Running Backs In The Entire NFL.
Coming out of college, expectations were not high for Theo Riddick. He was a sixth round draft pick for the Lions in 2013, and barely saw the field as a rookie. Then, in his second year, he started showing a lot of potential.
After his third season, he had cemented his status as a top receiving back in the league. Over the past three seasons, Riddick has averaged 55 receptions for 461 yards and four touchdowns per year. Riddick has also improved his ability to run the football, as he was the Lions’ leading rusher in 2016 with 357 yards.
Riddick is an extremely versatile piece of the Detroit Lions’ offense, and here are the things that you can expect to see him doing for them in 2017.
Red Zone Nightmare
Although the Lions red zone offense took a step back in 2016 after Calvin Johnson’s retirement, it wasn’t Riddick’s fault at all. At this point, Riddick is the best redzone matchup the Lions have. He can run routes out of the backfield, or lined up as a slot receiver.
It is not a rare occurrence at all for the Lions to move Riddick around the field until he is matched up with a linebacker. And when Riddick is covered by a linebacker, he is unstoppable, because there is no linebacker in the entire NFL who is as quick as Riddick. Here are some examples.
Stephone Anthony is the New Orleans Saint tasked with covering Riddick on this play. Riddick is lined up as the slot receiver, and the play is designed to go to him, he is Stafford‘s first read. Riddick has no problem faking out Stephone Anthony at the beginning of the route, and then is quick enough to get a massive amount of separation.
Riddick gets wide open, and scores as easy of a touchdown as you’ll see.
Although Riddick isn’t a great route runner, he has the quickness to separate from virtually all linebackers. Mychal Kendricks, a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles, learns that on this play. Riddick is lined up at running back, and runs an angle route out of the backfield. He puts a great juke move on Kendricks early in the route, causing Kendricks to slip and allowing Riddick lots of separation. Riddick gets wide open in the middle of the field, and catches an easy touchdown.
Theo Riddick is arguably the best player on the Detroit Lions’ roster at getting YAC (yards after the catch). In 2016, he had 389 yards after catch, despite only having 371 yards from scrimmage. This means that he often caught passes behind the line of scrimmage and the majority of the yards he gained were after he made the reception.
In 2015, Riddick was third in the entire NFL in YAC, with 645 of his 697 yards coming after the reception. In 2014, 309 of his 316 yards were after the catch. Over the past three seasons, 97% of Theo Riddick’s total receiving yards have come after the catch. Riddick is among the most elusive players in the NFL. Here are a couple of examples of his after the catch ability.
Theo Riddick has an elite juke move. Whether it is running routes or after the catch, Riddick has a great ability to break ankles as he does to Dannell Ellerbe, linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, on this play. Riddick runs a short route on this play, and Stafford decides to check the pass down to him. Ellerbe is a few yards away from Riddick, and Riddick makes a tremendous juke move after the catch, completely turning Ellerbe around. Riddick then runs 20 yards for the first down.
Coming out of the backfield on this play, Riddick is covered by Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith. Riddick puts a great move on Smith to create lots of separation, and then catches a wide open short pass over the middle. Riddick then displays a great juke against the Jaguars middle linebacker, Paul Posluszny, causing the two Jaguars linebackers to collide. Riddick then picks up a first down for the Lions.
Improved Rushing Ability
Although Theo Riddick is technically a running back, he has not ever been known for his ability to run the ball. Last year he was the Lions’ rushing leader, but with only 375 yards at 3.9 yards per carry.
Although these statistics are somewhat disappointing, they are both career highs for Riddick, who showed a lot of improvement when taking hand-offs last season. Riddick will never be a workhorse running back, but he has developed into a player who will occasionally gash defenses for big runs. Here are a few examples.
Against the Colts, Riddick had arguably the best rushing game of his career, with seven rushes for 45 yards and a touchdown. On this touchdown carry from that game, Riddick shows lots of things you’d like to see from a running back. He does a great job of quickly finding and getting through the running lane at the beginning of the play, and then does a great job of bouncing the run to the outside. He is then able to outrun #29 on the Colts into the endzone for the first Detroit Lions touchdown of the 2016 season.
On this run against the Vikings, the Lions catch the Minnesota defense off guard with a draw running play. Riddick does a good job of shaking off a tackle immediately after he is handed the ball. Riddick then shows good patience as he allows the blocks to develop downfield, and shows nice vision as he follows the blocks into the open field. Riddick is ultimately caught from behind, but this was a very good run by him.
Theo Riddick has improved his ability to rush the football, but he is still not great or even good at it, and he likely never will be. Over Riddick’s four professional seasons, he has just 566 rushing yards and averages only 3.5 yards per carry. He has only rushed for two touchdowns in his entire career.
As a running back, his ceiling is a good #2 back who can occasionally spell the #1 (if everything goes according to plan, this will be the dynamic between Riddick and Abdullah in 2017). Riddick simply doesn’t have the skill set to become a complete NFL running back, he will always be a role player.
He is one of the better role players you will find in the entire NFL, but he is still just a running back who cannot run and is only a threat receiving passes. Because of this, Riddick being in the game is usually a tell for opposing defenses that the Lions are going to pass. If Ameer Abdullah is healthy and productive this season, it is likely that the Lions will reserve Riddick for obvious passing situations.
Riddick is also coming off of a potentially major injury. He missed seven games in 2017 due to injuries to both of his wrists, which he had surgery on earlier this offseason. As of the writing of this article, Riddick has still been unable to participate in practices.
In this article, Michael Rothstein says “[I] still don’t expect him to do much [in OTA’s] as the Lions have a history of slowly bringing back established players from injury.”
There is a chance that these wrist injuries have no impact on Riddick in the 2017 season, but there is also a chance with an major injury such as this that it has a big impact on him. There is no way to know until we see him play.
Theo Riddick is among both the best pass catching backs and most elusive players in the NFL. Throughout the last three seasons, he has been what I call a great “drive starter” for the Lions, meaning that when the offense seems to be stalling, they check the ball down to him and he makes something happen after the catch.
There have been times over the past two years where Riddick seems to be Stafford’s favorite target, and for good reason. However, you have to wonder if Riddick catching so many passes and having such a great workload is the reason that he was injured midway through last season, he had 133 receptions in the previous 26 games he played before missing the final six games of 2017.
Between Ameer Abdullah returning to the Lions line up and Zach Zenner breaking out late in the 2016 season, I see a smaller role for Riddick in 2017. I think that Riddick seeing his role somewhat shrunken could be a good thing for the team though – if Riddick has fewer touches, he is likely to be more efficient with them as he will be fresher when he does get to touch the ball and is less likely to be injured. In two minute drills, a fresh Riddick against tired out linebackers is an easy match up in the Lions favor.
2017 statistics projection: 200 rushing yards, 4 yards per carry, 55 receptions, 450 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns