Skip to main content

2016 Position Breakdown: Running back

The good: It was short lived, but when Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were a healthy 1-2 punch for Detroit's run game, it thrived. Unfortunately, that was a reality for just two games. Detroit totaled 116 yards and 137 yards, respectively, on the ground the first two weeks of the season before Abdullah was lost for the rest of the year with a foot injury. He was averaging 5.6 yards per carry when he went down.

View photos of the Detroit Lions running backs in 2016.

"It's frustrating when you sit in my seat that you build a team and then you have your starting running back go down in the second week of the season," GM Bob Quinn said last week.

Over the next 14 games, the Lions would reach 100 yards rushing in a game just once.

"At the end of the season you look back and you say, 'Why didn't we run the ball?'" Quinn said. "We tried to improve the offensive line, which I think we did to a degree. It's hard to replace one guy that you think is going to carry the ball for a couple hundred times a year when he's gone."

Riddick was forced to pick up the slack, and rushed for a career-high 357 yards. His 3.9 yards per carry average was also a career high. He chipped in another 53 receptions for 371 yards, but missed six games total with ankle and wrist injuries.

Second-year running back Zach Zenner gave the Lions a spark after Riddick was lost to injury late in the year. He was the team's second-leading rusher with 334 yards, and led the team with four rushing touchdowns. He showed he could have a role and play it well.

The bad: The raw numbers aren't good when it comes to Detroit's rushing attack.

They averaged just 81.9 yards per game (30th in league), 3.7 yards per carry (27th), had 48 negative rushes (25th), had 35 runs of 10-plus yards (28th) and recorded just six rushing touchdowns from running backs.

Riddick had a team-high 357 yards, which was good for just 54th place among the NFL's leading rushers.

Detroit got zero consistency from its run game from Week 3 right up to the seasons-ending loss in Seattle.

Abdullah believes he can still be a premier back in this league, and Quinn threw his support behind Abdullah in his season-ending press conference. Quinn also said, however, that it's his responsibility to improve the depth at running back, and find a way to make that portion of Detroit's offense much better moving forward.

Key stat: Is there a quarterback in the NFL right now that's received less support from a run game than Matthew Stafford? The simple truth is that Stafford needs help. He and the passing game can't do it all, not in this league.

The Lions failed to have a 100-yard rusher for a third straight season. Since 2009, when the Lions took Stafford No. 1 overall, Detroit's had just eight 100-yard rushing performances from a single back over those eight seasons.

Free agents: Joique Bell, who was signed late in the year to give Detroit's backfield some depth after the loss of Riddick, is the only free agent among Detroit's running backs.

Abdullah, Riddick, Zenner, Dwayne Washington and fullback Michael Burton are all under contract for the 2017 season.

Draft: There is a very talented class of running backs entering the league this year.

Leonard Fournette (LSU), Dalvin Cook (Florida State), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and D'Onta Foreman (Texas) could all be first-round picks. Fournette, Cook and Foreman could be load bearers for their teams right away.

Behind those four, Alvin Kamara (Tennessee), Curtis Samuel (Ohio State), Joe Mixon (Oklahoma) and others make up a very solid and deep class.

MVP: The Lions run game simply wasn't the same without Abdullah, which makes him the most valuable player in Detroit's backfield.

With him and Riddick working in tandem, Detroit's offense is a completely different monster for opposing defensive coordinators to deal with. It was proven throughout the course of the last 15 games (including playoffs) that Abdullah is a valuable component to this Lions offense.

Quotable: "You look at the stats, you can go right to the league stats and say, 'Where did we finish in running?' I think it was what, 30th in the league in rushing? That's not good enough," Quinn said.

"This isn't you pick one running back at the top of the draft and your running game is fixed, that's not how this league works. I think you can go back to the Cowboys, and everyone writes about their great offensive line and they have a great running back. Well, they also have a really good blocking tight end and they also have a pretty good fullback when he's in there. I think it takes 11 guys on the offensive side of the ball to run the football."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content