How Does Ameer Abdullah Fit With the Detroit Lions?
I thought I was going crazy last year. Ameer Abdullah had me hearing things.
When I watched him play, due to his ability to churn out big-plays at the drop of a hat, I kept hearing bad rap music playing in my head -- forgetting that the game I was watching was live and not just some YouTube highlight footage. And when I watched his games and focused on the defenders I kept hearing the Benny Hill theme music as defenders whiffed, broke ankles, and just looked utterly foolish trying to track him down.
Now, little 5"9", 205-pound Ameer Abdullah has me seeing things: visions of a modern day Barry Sanders running all over the NFC North. Of course, obviously, I lost my good senses following the Lions' pick of Abdullah at 54th overall, but there's good reason to be hyped. While I'm sure he won't be the next Barry Sanders (who could?), Ameer Abdullah at least has the resume to suggest he'll be a compelling potential replacement for the now 49er, Reggie Bush.
Abdullah in College
Abdullah had one of the best seasons in college football last year, rushing for 1,611 yards on 264 carries and 19 touchdowns as well as netting 22 receptions for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. Still, this was only slightly more impressive than his junior year, when he put up 1,690 yards on 281 carries for 9 touchdowns on the ground and caught 26 passes for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He ranks 45th all-time in college football rushing yardage and finished among the Big-10 all-time leaders at 17th in rushing attempts, ninth in rushing yards, and second in kick return yardage.
Abdullah at the Combine
Though he disappointed some scouts with a 4.6-second forty yard dash at the combine, he dominated in every other category. He ranked 12th in the forty yard dash and seventh in bench press but finished first in the vertical leap, broad jump, 3-cone drill, and short shuttle. He also had the highest SPARQ score out of the entire running back class.
The numbers he put on display at the combine seem to be backed up in the box score as well. While his longest run of the year was only 57 yards (ranked 158th) he averaged a whopping 6.1 yards per carry over the last two years. This suggests that, while he might not have a high top-end speed, he's still able to power through defenders and use his agility to maneuver past them.
Abdullah in the NFL
The Lions should also look to make a concerted effort to target Abdullah in the passing game as well. He has great hands (he went the last two seasons without a single drop) and has been highly lauded for his route-running capabilities.
Even though many scouts had him ranked as a first-round talent, he's not without his flaws. While I did just say he has great hands, that's not really the case when the ball is already in his hands; he averaged a fumble once every 35.4 touches -- far worse than any back who went before him. He's a bit undersized and could struggle initially as a blocker or in a workhorse capacity if he fails to put more weight on his frame.
Abdullah with the Lions
The move makes sense for the Lions, who just lost Reggie Bush to the San Francisco 49ers and have not been efficient on the ground in recent years. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, the Lions lost 0.03 points per run play when adjusted for schedule and compared to league average. In 2013, their Adjusted Rushing NEP per play (-0.04) ranked 23rd.
Abdullah should compete this summer with Theo Riddick for Reggie Bush's vacant role while still being an immediate contributor in the return game. If he can bulk up, improve as a pass-blocker, and limit his fumbles, then he could even work towards stealing more carries away from Joique Bell.
Over the past three years, Detroit running backs as a whole averaged 410 rushing attempts and 100 receptions per year, so Abdullah should have plenty of opportunities to prove himself next year. So, can we expect some Reggie Bush-like numbers from him in 2015? It remains to be seen, but for a back with his talent and skillset, he appears to be in an ideal location.