Theo Riddick Can Be a Reliable Fantasy Football Option Despite Detroit's Backfield

Even in a suddenly crowded Lions running back rotation, Riddick is poised for a big 2017.

The Detroit Lions' backfield has been a major offseason talking point in fantasy circles.

Optimism is abundant about the breakout potential of Ameer Abdullah. Zach Zenner has been talked up as a quality goal-line option. Coaches have seen significant improvement from sophomore tailback Dwayne Washington, and the team even added former Minnesota Vikings Matt Asiata for depth purposes.

But what of Theo Riddick?

Indeed, the former Notre Dame standout, who is currently recovering from offseason double wrist surgery, has been something of a forgotten man in the Lions’ increasingly crowded rotation. So will the team’s sudden surplus of runners prove to be the end of Riddick’s run as a productive and reliable fantasy option?

Highly unlikely.

Riddick as a Rusher

Yes, the Lions have a lot of options in the backfield, but that shouldn’t scare anyone off of Riddick.

While "running back" may be Riddick’s positional designation, the numbers simply don’t lie. The fifth-year player isn’t built to be a true between-the-tackles runner, and his career yards per carry of 3.45 and grand total of 2 rushing touchdowns at the NFL level bear that out. The Lions recognize his limitations in this area and have minimized his involvement in the ground game.

Indeed, his single season-high of 92 carries in 2016 was more of a byproduct of how ravaged by injuries the team’s backfield truly was than any desire to feature him as a runner. Unfortunately, Riddick didn’t hold up well against this heavier workload, and injuries ultimately cost him six contests. In three years prior to that, he had never received more than 43 carries in any year, and if Lions coaches have their way, his market share will be limited again in 2017.

So, if Riddick is going to see such minimal volume this season, how could he possibly be counted upon in fantasy? It’s simple. The former converted college wide receiver’s true value will continue to lie in his proficiency as a pass-catcher.

Riddick as a Receiver

After playing a minimal role in his rookie season, Riddick showed signs of improvement in 2014, catching 34 of his 50 targets for 316 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The breakout was officially on in 2015, when Riddick snared 80 of his 99 targets for 697 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was also during this season that he became a standout in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. So efficient was Riddick that he had an average per-target Reception NEP of 0.50, well above the league's running back average of 0.36 and good for the sixth-highest total among all running backs who saw 50-plus targets that year.

Even during his aforementioned injury-riddled 2016, Riddick still secured 53 of 67 targets for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Over the course of these three productive seasons, among backs with at least 30 catches, he has ranked 12th (in 2014), 4th, and 5th in Reception Success Rate, the percentage of catches that led to positive expected points.

Furthermore, Jim Bob Cooter's offense will continue to be predicated on quick, short-to-immediate throws, and quarterback Matthew Stafford absolutely loves throwing to Riddick, who has averaged more than five catches per game over the past two seasons.

Fantasy Outlook

Add all of this up, and it’s apparent that Riddick is primed for success in 2017.

A likely reduction in his rushing workload will help him to remain healthy, allowing him to continue to produce as one of the game’s premier pass-catching backs.

Riddick, last year's RB8 in PPR points per game, makes a solid flex option across the board, but he’s particularly valuable in formats that reward catches. With a current average draft position of 7.09 in PPR leagues and 11.01 in standard leagues, he’s a veritable steal at this cost.

Draft him comfortably at his current discount price and watch him continue to rack up receptions at an elite rate. We project Riddick to finish as the RB24 in PPR formats.