The Lions’ Fourth-Year Running Back May Shock Fans In 2018
2017 was it for Ameer Abdullah. After a solid rookie season in 2015 (597 rushing yards at 4.2 ypc) and an excellent start to the 2016 season (101 yards at 5.6 ypc in five quarters of play), which was cut short by injury, Abdullah finally got a real shot to be the Lions’ feature running back in 2017.
He proceeded to rush for just 552 yards at 3.3 yards per attempt. Abdullah averaged just 39.4 yards per game. He only started 11 games, and by the end of the season was the third back on the depth chart. Theo Riddick and undrafted rookie Tion Green both seemed to be more productive over the last half of the season.
So, after this extremely disappointing third season, many Lions fans are questioning why he’s even still on the team. I am here to argue that not only should he still be with the Lions, but that he will be a productive part of the team in 2018.
Ameer Abdullah Is Still Explosive
After Abdullah suffered a Lisfranc injury in 2016, many questioned whether he would ever fully recover. His game is highly dependent on his agility, which Lisfranc injuries are known for hindering. While this did prove to be true to an extent, I would argue that Abdullah still has enough shiftiness to be a good change of pace back.
On this run from last season against the Browns, Abdullah shows that he still has some agility. The run was well blocked, and Abdullah showed a great ability to accelerate, getting through the running lane, making one defender miss, and falling into the end zone.
This run against the Vikings really shows that he does have an ability to make something out of nothing. The blocking was just horrible, and the intended running lane never even existed on this play. Abdullah’s first move was an awesome cut to get to the outside, and then he again showed his top-notch acceleration, catching the defense off guard and picking up a first down.
2017 Wasn’t As Bad As You Think
During the 2017 season, there were a lot of ups and down for Abdullah. I’ll be the first to admit that his downs were really, really down too. Like his game against the Chicago Bears last November when he ran for 22 yards on 11 carries. Or his performance against Green Bay on Monday Night Football when he got the ball 21 times and ran for just 48 yards.
But what Lions fans seem to be forgetting is that he had some bright good moments from last season as well. He was within range of ending the Lions’ now famous consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher streak – twice, against the New York Giants (17 carries for 86 yards) and in Minnesota (20 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown).
Against the Browns, Abdullah looked like the 2016 version of himself. He ran the ball 11 times for 52 yards.
Ameer Abdullah had five runs of 20 or more yards in the 2017 season. That’s as many as backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon, Jordan Howard, Alvin Kamara, and even more than Jay Ajayi, Leonard Fournette and Le’Veon Bell had last season. When the blocking was there (which wasn’t very often), he was able to still take advantage of it and create big plays.
Abdullah has already proven that he can be a good kick returner in the NFL, a position the Lions have need at. In his rookie year, he led the NFL in kick return yards (1077) and average yards per return (29.1).
He owns the record for the longest kick return in NFL history to not score a touchdown against the Packers when he fielded the ball five yards into his own end zone and returned all the way to the Green Bay one-yard line for 104 yards.
Even if Abdullah isn’t able to produce at all on the Lions offense, it is worth keeping him for his special teams abilities.
So, am I suggesting that Abdullah will get more touches than free agent addition LeGarrette Blount or second round rookie Kerryon Johnson? No, not at all. What I am saying is that Abdullah can still thrive as a change of pace back in the Lions offense, while adding value on special teams.
Ameer Abdullah was never meant to be a feature back. He just doesn’t have the size, vision or breakaway speed. However, with a reduced role, he has the ability to do a lot more with less in 2018.