LIONS INSIDER

2017 training camp preview: Running back

Posted Jul 14, 2017

Tim Twentyman previews the running back position heading into training camp.

On roster: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, Mike James, Matt Asiata, Tion Green

Key losses: Michael Burton

Making cut: Abdullah, Riddick, Zenner, Washington

On bubble: James, Asiata, Green

Best competition: Who is the No. 3 back on this roster?

Abdullah and Riddick are the clear No. 1 and No. 2 backs when healthy, but who will emerge as the No. 3 option and potentially the No. 1 short-yardage runner?

Dwayne Washington had the role early on last year after a tremendous preseason. But Washington was later passed on the depth chart by Zenner, who became Detroit’s lead back towards the end of the season after both Abdullah and Riddick were lost for the year.

Zenner will no-doubt try and parlay the momentum from a couple nice games late last year into a role this year, possibly in short-yardage or goal-line situations.

Washington will try and regain the No. 3 spot through training camp and the preseason. James, Asiata and Green will also put their hats into the competition.

Asiata has starting experience in the NFL and scored six touchdowns for the Vikings last season. Don’t be surprised if he gets a long look in the preseason for a power back role.

The Lions no longer keep a fullback on the roster, which means they could potentially keep five running backs on the initial 53-man roster depending on how the numbers play out.

2016 stats
PlayerGamesAttYdsAvgTDRecYdsTD
Ameer Abdullah 2 18 101 5.6 0 5 57 1
Theo Riddick 10 92 357 3.9 1 53 371 5
Zach Zenner 14 88 334 3.8 4 18 196 0
Dwayne Washington 12 90 265 2.9 1 10 62 0
Mike James^ 4 4 19 4.8 0 4 22 0
Matt Asiata# 16 121 402 3.3 6 32 263 0
Tion Green* 12 159 743 4.7 2 29 167 0
^ with TB     # with MIN     * college stats

Twentyman’s take: Will the Lions finally develop a rushing threat that is respected by opponents?

Since Matthew Stafford was drafted in 2009, the Lions have had a running back rush for 100 yards in a game a grand total of just seven times. A lot of teams get that kind of production in a single season.

What could the potential be if Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter could get some consistency out of the run game?

Abdullah was very productive last season before a fluky foot injury ended his season. He was averaging 5.6 yards per carry and the Lions rushed for at least 100 yards as a team in both contests he played last season. With the improvements the Lions have made upfront in both the draft and free agency the past couple offseasons, could this finally be the year the Lions offense becomes a dual threat?

Abdullah is highly motivated to show people why he was a second-round pick in the 2015 draft. He and Riddick are terrific dual-threat options out of the backfield for this offense, but they must stay healthy.

By the numbers:

81.9: Average rushing yards per game for the Lions in 2016, which ranked 30th in the NFL.

4.3: Abdullah’s career yards per rush average

54: The number of games (including playoffs) the Lions have played since their last 100-yard rusher (Reggie Bush) back on Nov. 28 of 2013.

Quotable: “I feel pretty good about the position,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn said this offseason of his depth at running back.

“There were a couple running backs that we looked at in the middle part of the draft, but just no one we felt was going to come in and really unseat any of the guys that we have on our roster, so I feel good about that spot.”