Why You Should Be Trying to Acquire Ameer Abdullah in Your Fantasy Football League
The Ameer Abdullah hype train gathered steam and passengers throughout the offseason. After a solid showing in the preseason -- including a ridiculous run against the Jets -- he collected more believers. Then, in Week 1, he put a move on San Diego safety Eric Weddle that’s hard to describe. I had to take a cold shower after seeing it.
If you’re not actively trying to acquire him before he truly blows up, my question is this: What are you waiting for?
Shedding the Label
It's okay if you're hesitant to get “Fear Ameer” tattooed on your bicep. You’re not alone. Others have been slow to warm to Abdullah, as well.
Abdullah grew up in Alabama, smack dab in the middle of football crazy SEC country. Rivals rated him as a three-star recruit out of high school, and a lot of the SEC big boys came calling. Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas all wanted Abdullah -- to play defensive back.
You see, at 5'9", 177 pounds, Abdullah couldn't survive at running back in the meatgrinder that is the SEC. At least that was the assumption.
So, Abdullah turned down his self-proclaimed dream school, Auburn, to play his dream position, running back, at Nebraska.
All he did in Lincoln was break the Cornhuskers’ career record for all-purpose yards with 5,762. His size didn’t prevent him from being a workhorse back as he racked up 226, 281 and 264 carries in his final three collegiate seasons.
Abdullah didn’t just log a bunch of carries: he went buck wild with them.
From 2012 to 2014, his three seasons as Nebraska’s bell cow, Abdullah had more 100-yard games (23) than any running back in college football. He also had the third-most 100-yard games with a touchdown (17). For his career, Abdullah carried the rock 813 times for 4,588 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 39 touchdowns, including back-to-back 1,600-yard campaigns in 2013 and 2014. In 2014 alone, he erupted for four 200-yard games and scored 22 total touchdowns.
He also showed the ability to be a quality receiver out of the backfield, catching 73 balls for 690 yards and 7 scores in his career.
In short, the dude did it all at Nebraska.
Aside from dominating on the field, Abdullah changed his body. In four years, he went from a slender 177-pound high school recruit to a 205-pound ball of force and muscle. That transition allowed him to put on a show at the NFL scouting combine.
Lighting a SPARQ
In today’s day and age, it’s hard to have an impressive combine with a mediocre showing in the 40-yard dash, the combine's headline event, but that’s exactly what Abdullah did. Despite running a 4.6-second time in the 40, Abdullah shredded the agility and burst drills, showing he has elite explosion and change-of-direction ability.
In the broad jump, vertical jump and 20-yard shuttle, Abdullah tested in at least the 97th percentile in each event. That’s the percentile ranking among all running backs tested at the combine over the years, not just 2015, so that’s mighty impressive.
Playerprofiler.com -- a really neat site, by the way -- can further quantify those measurements with their agility score and burst score metrics, which line up well with the traits a running back must possess to be successful. The agility score takes into account a player's times in the three-cone drill and 20-yard short shuttle to measure a players short area quickness and balance. The burst score equally weighs a player’s vertical jump and broad jump distances to measure zero-inertia explosiveness. Abdullah’s agility score and burst score are each in at least the 97th percentile, with his burst score totaling 137.3. According to the site, any score over 130 is considered “extraordinary” for a running back.
Okay, just one more metric.
Abdullah’s SPARQ rating is through the roof, too, checking in at 138.7, which -- again -- puts him in the 98th percentile. SPARQ is a Nike-invented metric that’s an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness -- all kind of important for running backs. It’s a standardized test meant to measure all-around athleticism.
Abdullah’s test scores tell us -- loud and clear -- he’s explosive, but as staggering as those combine numbers are, it’s more meaningful (and fun) to see that athleticism in action.
Let’s go back to the glorious run against the Jets this preseason. Sure, what he does in the backfield to that linebacker -- who we won’t name out of respect for his family -- is nasty, but look at the way he erupts upfield after making that move. That’s what playing running back in the NFL is all about -- finding a crease and hitting it.
In that same game, Abdullah again shows off his elusiveness by dancing around another would-be tackler (second run in that clip), this time a safety filling the box, to turn a short gain into a seven-yard pickup.
In his first regular season carry, he undressed the Chargers on a 24-yard touchdown. Abdullah took a handoff going right, hit a cutback lane to his left and then beat Weddle with a supernatural move, leaving the five-time All-Pro defensive back grabbing at air. Weddle was beaten so badly in a 1-on-1 situation, not only did he not get a hand on Abdullah, he almost didn’t even dive. It was like Weddle had the turf pulled out from underneath him.
Again, it was Abdullah’s first NFL carry.
In his first NFL game, Abdullah carried the ball 7 times for 50 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in 4 passes (on 4 targets) for 44 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. In the preseason, he totaled 12 carries for 82 yards, adding one reception for 21 yards. In all, Abdullah has 19 carries for 132 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown to go with 5 catches for 65 yards. That’s 197 yards on 24 touches -- or 8.2 yards per touch.
Yes, preseason stats are flawed, and his current pace is unsustainable, but at this point of the season, there isn’t much career data for a rookie running back. Still, in what numbers we do have, he has shown the ability to be extremely efficient with his touches.
Using Net Expected Points (NEP), our signature metric, we can see exactly how efficient. NEP allows us to dig deeper into the box score by adding down-and-distance value to plays. By doing so, we can see just how much each singular play influences the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
In the season opener, Abdullah added 4.68 Total NEP on 11 touches. His Rushing NEP of 3.36 was good enough to rank 7th despite having only 7 rushes. His Rushing NEP per carry (0.47) ranked third among 54 backs with at least 5 Week 1 carries. Plus, 4 of his 7 rushes added to Detroit's NEP, giving him a Rushing Success Rate of 57.14%, 10th among those running backs.
As a receiver, he also racked up 0.33 Reception NEP per target, which ranked 19th among running backs with at least two receptions in the opening week.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: one game is an extremely small sample size. Along those lines, Darren Sproles was the 2014 leader in Rushing NEP per play among backs with at least 30 attempts. His Rushing NEP per play was 0.21, so Abdullah is obviously not going to sustain this pace.
Sharing the Load
Abdullah’s competition for touches in Detroit is Joique Bell, who is not a bastion of efficiency. Bell’s yards-per-carry clip has been under 4.0 in each of the past two seasons, meaning he’s remained on the RB2 radar primarily due to volume. Bell finished last season with -0.03 Rushing NEP per play, which ranked 22nd among 43 backs with at least 100 carries. In terms of total Rushing NEP, he ended the year at -7.53, good enough for 23rd.
Somehow, Detroit ran a league-low 47 plays in Week 1, which capped Abdullah’s snap count and opportunity for production. In addition to the offense’s low number of plays, Abdullah only touched the ball on 23.4 percent of the Lions’ offensive plays.
For reference, the most heavily used running backs in Week 1 were Carlos Hyde (42.4 percent of his team's offensive touches), LeSean McCoy (36.4 percent) and Alfred Morris (36.0 percent). Among other rookie backs, Tevin Coleman (31.4 percent) and T.J. Yeldon (24.3 percent) were used more than Abdullah, with Melvin Gordon also coming in at 23.0 percent.
With more offensive snaps, Abdullah will, naturally, see more touches, provided he's used at the same rate or greater.
Abdullah was expected to have to wait to become the Lions’ lead dog, but his play may have sped up the timeline. He out-touched Bell 11-8 in the opener, and out-snapped Bell 28-18. It’s not hard to envision the gap growing if Abdullah continues his superb play. Detroit is going to have a hard time keeping him off the field. If -- maybe when is the better word -- Abdullah takes over this backfield for good, the increased volume will obviously been a boon for his fantasy numbers.
Abdullah couldn’t have done a whole lot more than what he’s done thus far. The fantasy community is catching on.
According to MyFantasyLeague.com data for dynasty league rookie drafts, where selecting a player is akin to marriage, Abdullah's average draft position (ADP) went from the first pick of the third round in late April to a first-rounder by mid-June, eventually plateauing by the end of August as the seventh overall pick. In redraft formats, the pattern is the same, as his ADP ended up climbing into the end of the fifth round (57th overall).
If you don’t already have some Abdullah shares, you need to be trying to obtain as many as you can before it’s too late. If you’re waiting to see what he does until he gets a game with a full workload, you’re just letting his price tag soar or missing the boat altogether.