Is It Time to Drop Ameer Abdullah in Fantasy Football?
If you'd only taken your significant other out to a nice dinner on August 13th, skipping SportsCenter and staying off Twitter for the evening, maybe you wouldn't have fallen so hard.
That was the fateful night when the fantasy football community fell in love with Ameer Abdullah. It wasn't just the 7 carries for 67 yards he accumulated that night -- it was the way he got those yards, dancing and juking his way through a stout New York Jets defense. As a result, Abdullah changed overnight from a sexy mid-round value pick in fantasy drafts to a player that was being drafted as a weekly starter.
Five weeks into the season, Abdullah owners are paying a dear price with their overly optimistic projections of the rookie. Is it prudent to remain patient, or is it time to come to the realization that it's just not happening for Abdullah this season?
Even those most bullish on Abdullah didn't envision him in a feature back role, at least not to start the season. While Joique Bell spent the entire preseason recovering from offseason surgery, the Lions' coaching staff continued to insist he would be the starter if he was ready in Week 1. Even so, there would clearly be a role for Abdullah as a change-of-pace back, and at the very least, a dynamic third down receiving back.
Of course, there always remained the possibility of a feature back role once the Lions realized his talent would make their offense far more potent than the plodding Bell, or if Bell was injured.
And now that the season is underway, Bell has more than lived up up to the plodder label, averaging a measly 1.0 yards per carry and a league-worst Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry of -0.32.
Abdullah had a promising first week of the season sharing time with Bell, posting a 7-50 rushing line, and an encouraging 4-44 with a touchdown through the air. Weeks 2 and 3 weren't as kind to Abdullah, however, as he gained only 32 yards on the ground and 18 yards receiving in those two weeks combined. To make matters worse, Theo Riddick was garnering all the receptions when the Lions fell behind and were forced to throw.
Abdullah was now relegated to playing second fiddle to Bell while Riddick was given the primary role in the passing game.
The last two weeks have held more promise for Abdullah, with Bell sidelined for both games. Being thrust into a featured role was only so attractive, though, considering the Lions were facing two top-tier defenses in the Seahawks and Cardinals (both top seven against the run according to our schedule-adjusted metrics). The worst-case scenario came to fruition in both games, and Abdullah was benched for fellow rookie Zach Zenner after two fumbles and a horrific -5.54 Rushing NEP total. Meanwhile, Riddick finished with 10 catches as the Lions fell behind early and were ultimately blow out.
While the presence of Bell was seen as the biggest hindrance to Abdullah's fantasy value at the beginning of the season, it's actually been Riddick who has kept a lid on Abdullah's production to date. Riddick has seen a whopping 36 targets thus far, the most of any running back in the NFL, while Abdullah has only seen 13. Had Abdullah's usage been limited to only the passing game and most of those targets had gone his way, fantasy owners would honestly be satisfied with his production.
Abdullah's lack of production shouldn't be viewed as a referendum on his talent. The Lions' offense has been an utter disaster all season. Regardless of who is carrying the ball, the offensive line has been unable to open up holes, and game flow certainly hasn't favored a consistent running game. The Lions are ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards and are 29th according to NEP when adjusted for strength of opponent. The passing game, led by Matthew Stafford, is simply a middle-of-the-road one when adjusting for strength of opponent.
In other words, nothing has worked for the Lions' offense to this point.
The Good News
If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's that the Lions' schedule has been very challenging thus far. During the last three weeks, the Lions have faced three of the top six defenses in the league, per our metrics. The schedule looks much more promising going forward, and things get far easier this week with a plus-matchup at home against the Bears. Of course, it remains to be seen if Abdullah is given an opportunity to handle the bulk of the carries this week, given his ball security issues last week. Additionally, it appears Bell may be back on the field this week, making the situation even muddier.
But circumstances such as schedule, game flow, and the utter incompetence of the Lions' offense as a whole have all contributed to the disappointing start of Abdullah. You don't get fantasy points for sob stories, though, so fantasy owners have reached an inflection point with regards to how to handle the situation. Should Abdullah, and the Lions' offense in general, falter again this week in a prime rebound spot, he'll be nearly impossible to trust as a fantasy starter moving forward.
Therefore it's wise to give Abdullah another week to see how things play out against a weaker defense. We project a pedestrian 9.58 points for Abdullah this week, so even given the opponent, he's not a particularity desirable option. It will take a dramatic improvement in the Lions' offense as a whole, and a continued significant role for Abdullah, in order for him to approach the lofty expectations fantasy owners had when they drafted him.