Writers’ Round Table: Ranking Ameer Abdullah

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The Writing Staff Gets Together To Give Their Thoughts On Where They Would Rank Ameer Abdullah.

The Detroit Lions’ rushing attack has not been up to par these last few seasons. Since Barry Sanders’ retirement, there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about in the Lions’ backfield. Jahvid Best’s career was cut short by injury. The Lions had a nice tandem in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but age limited the time-frame of their effectiveness. The Lions have not found a solution to their consistently sub-par rushing attack.

Drafted in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Ameer Abdullah was supposed to be that solution. He flashed the ability to be the solution, the long-term primary ball carrier in the Detroit Lions’ backfield. Unfortunately, due to ball security issues in his rookie season and an injury in his second season, Ameer Abdullah has not proven that he is that guy for the Lions yet.

When on the field, Abdullah has flashed electric play making ability. When on the field, he has shown that he has the potential to be a huge part of the Lions offense. He just hasn’t been on the field enough to prove that he is either the future at the position for the Lions or just another in a long list of unsuccessful starters. Given a limited sample size of Ameer Abdullah’s ability at the NFL level, a few of the writers got together to give their takes on where we would rank Ameer Abdullah among NFL running backs.

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Brandon Knapp@BKnappBlogs

Ameer Abdullah is on his last leg in Detroit for me. I am a big injury person, and when it comes to serious injuries everyone gets three chances before I want to dump them. Stafford was on strike two after back to back season ending injuries, same with DeAndre Levy. Abdullah is on strike two, even though he didn’t miss time in 2015, he had shoulder surgery that cost him crucial offseason time. Players get hurt for a week or two, I get that, but in the NFL, you can’t afford to have someone to miss important time more than three times.

Now the big debate here is how Abdulah ranks among the NFL starting running backs. While Abdullah hasn’t wowed the fans yet of what he can do, considering he only started nine games in 2015 and played in two in 2016, he has yet to show a full 16 game season of him starting. His only full season he ran 143 times for 597 yards and for two touchdowns. Also, that was behind a weaker offensive line, one without Taylor Decker, TJ Lang, Rick Wagner, an inexperienced Travis Swanson and a rotating door at the right tackle position.

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Now Abdullah will have an improved offensive line and hopefully, he can stay healthy to show that he is a top 10 running back in the NFL. Where is Abdullah at out of the 10 running backs? Number 10, barely making the list. Here are the running backs that are better than Abdullah in no particular order:

  • LeSean McCoy
  • Le’Veon Bell
  • DeMarco Murray
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Devonta Freeman
  • Doug Martin
  • David Johnson
  • Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley? After the sophomore slump? Yup, if Gurley had an offensive line like Elliott had, Gurley would have great stats, but with a poor offensive line, that hurts his chances to take his skills to the next level.

Adrian Peterson is better than Ameer Abdullah looking at them overall, but currently, Peterson is showing his age, and maybe a new team can give his career another year or two of production, but looking at how running backs are doing right now, Abdullah is better than him.

Something to note as well, this year’s running back class was portrayed as the best class in years. While there are very talented players in the class and some will turn into great NFL running backs, Abdullah is better than almost every single one of them and fans were angry that we passed on a running back. Just look at these numbers, it was safe to give Abdullah another chance.

Sean Lanigan@Lanny1925

I really like Ameer Abdullah. I grew up on Barry Sanders, so I’ve always had a soft spot for elusive and explosive backs, guys that can do exciting things with the ball in their hands. Ameer Abdullah has shown that he is capable of that type of play. If he can play consistently the way that he has during his flashes, he could be among the best backs in the league. The problem has been staying on the field. Between the fumbles and last year’s injury, he hasn’t had the volume to prove that he can be that back on a regular basis.

The top tier of backs has to include Leveon Bell, Ezekiel Elliot, and David Johnson. I think that they are indisputably ahead of Ameer Abdullah. Following them, you have the veterans who are still producing at a high level. I’d include LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, and Demarco Murray. Those guys have produced for years now and have established themselves as top backs in the NFL. They are nearing the end of their prime, and possibly are past it already, but are still producing at a high level and haven’t shown significant decline in ability. I consider all of those guys to be ahead of Abdullah.

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The next group of guys are the young, talented running backs that have had productive years and have at times looked to be deserving of being considered a top NFL running back. Of these running backs, I would put Devonta Freeman, Jay Ajayi and Todd Gurley ahead of Ameer Abdullah. I’m not sold on Jordan Howard. I didn’t like him as a prospect, and I think that his production was largely opportunity based rather than talent based. He could prove me wrong and follow up his rookie season with a strong second year, but right now I would rather have Abdullah. I would probably put Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah on even ground here. I’d give the edge to Gordon for now, strictly based on the fact that Gordon has had a mostly-full, productive NFL season, even if it wasn’t spectacular.

Finally, we have the rookies. You could make the argument that these guys have never taken an NFL snap and have no business in running back rankings. Generally, I would agree. This case is a little different, because Abdullah also has a limited sample size to judge. Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook, and Joe Mixon all have the potential to be top backs in the NFL. Odds are that they won’t all reach that status. I would say that you could probably put Abdullah behind two of those four running backs, assuming two of them bust.

That ranks Ameer Abdullah somewhere between 10 and 15, depending on your opinion of the rookie running backs and Melvin Gordon.

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Bryce Rossler@btrossler

I’m not sure how my cohorts feel about it, but I’m excited about Ameer Abdullah’s return. A clean bill of health for the former Cornhusker bodes well for a paltry rushing attack that ranked 30th in the league in 2016.

Abdullah was a darling of media analysts who forecasted him as a breakout candidate before he went down with a foot injury in the Week two contest against the Titans. In just six quarters of action, he toted the rock 18 times for 101 yards (5.61 YPC). Had he kept that pace, it would have been good for third among running backs behind only Oakland’s Jalen Richard (83 attempts, 5.92 YPC) and Bill-cum-Patriot Mike Gillislee (101 attempts, 5.77 YPC).

That’s a small sample size to work with and the NFL season is a grind, so it’d have been impressive if Abdullah could have maintained that level of play through sixteen games. Nevertheless, he put on a show against Indianapolis and Tennessee. The Colts may have ranked dead-last in rush DVOA, but the Titans were a respectable 10th in Football Outsiders’ metric, and Abdullah actually averaged a higher YPC against Tennessee (6.33) than he did Indy (5.25).

Again, it’s tough to rank Abdullah because it requires a great deal of projection, but I’d say he’s a fringe top 10 back. According to Football Outsiders, Abdullah averaged 4.6 YPC on 81 carries after Cooter took over in 2015. That would have tied him for 10th among running backs in 2015 with Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden.

It’s not a question of talent for Abdullah; he needs to stay healthy and hang onto the ball. He only carried it 18 times in 2016, so it’s hard to tell if he remedied his fumbling issues (3.4% fumble rate in 2015), which will be something to monitor moving forward. With the likes of Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson finding new teams this offseason, the NFL is undergoing something of a changing of the guard at the running back position.

If he can stay on the field in 2017, Abdullah’s combination of elusiveness, elite change of direction ability, and balance could put him in the conversation as a top tier back. Until then, he remains on the bubble, somewhere in the 12-15 range.

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About the Author

Sean Lanigan
I love fantasy football, fantasy baseball, music, books, video games, and all things nerd. I'm a big football fan and a bigger Detroit Lions fan. I was born in Michigan but have spent the vast majority of my life living in Viking and Packer country. If you are a Lions fan in Minnesota, hit me up, and let's watch some football.