Theo Riddick can be more than a receiving back in Detroit
With Ameer Abdullah now out due to injury, the split backfield in Detroit just suddenly became a one-man band, and Theo Riddick gets an opportunity to prove he is more than just a scatback.
Riddick has been an excellent receiving back since entering the league, posting the best grade we have ever given a running back for his work as a receiver last season, at 93.1. Riddick racked up 80 receptions on just 94 targets, and was only on the field for 481 snaps in total. On those catches, he gained 697 receiving yards, but forced 36 missed tackles on his way to three scores.
In the same season, he was given just 43 carries and gained 133 yards (3.1 per attempt). Of his 481 snaps, only 67 of them were running plays, as he was almost exclusively used as a “third-down back,” which in today’s NFL is actually a pretty poor misnomer, given how much teams pass.
Through two games this season, Riddick already has 18 carries. Even before Abdullah went down, the former Notre Dame standout was on pace for 144 carries, 101 more than a year ago, without actually being on the field a whole lot more. Through two games he has 75 snaps, which would only give him an extra 119 on his 2015 figures. He has been on the field for 51.7 percent of the team’s offensive snaps this season, compared to 43.6 a year ago.
Right now, Riddick is grading well in all three phases of the game—as a runner, receiver, and blocker—and the door just opened for him to prove that he can take a heavier load on his shoulder and still produce.
Riddick is a smaller back that won’t bowl people over with power. At 5-foot-9 and barely tipping the scales at 200 pounds, he’s just not equipped for the power game. That doesn’t mean he’s incapable of running between the tackles, however, but rather that he just needs to go about it in another way.
Interestingly, all but six of Riddick’s carries have been between the tackles so far this season, and on those carries, he is averaging the same 4.6 yards per carry that he is overall.
Take this play against the Colts from Week 1 as an example.
The Lions run a simple inside zone play up the middle, but it’s in trouble early because RT Riley Reiff loses to the inside against DE Zach Kerr. Riddick sees it break down, cuts around that block and gets back up field. That second part is actually the more interesting aspect of the play; a lot of runners, especially ones considered space players like Riddick, would have taken the opportunity to break towards the sideline and tried to make it to open ground. This was always the failing of Reggie Bush as a runner in the NFL.
Riddick doesn’t bail on the play, though; instead he adjusts what he has to do to make it work, and looks to continue where it was designed to go. He has to make a second cut once he’s heading to the second level, again making a guy miss before he finds a bit of space to gain real yardage.
The end-zone look gives a nice view of the discipline he shows in not trying to bounce this outside. Once he cuts around Reiff’s block, he has really only Erik Walden standing between him and a lot of open space, and Walden is isolated with quite a bit of ground to cover. At this point, Reggie Bush would be taking off towards the sideline, likely being strung out by Walden and taken down by the safety for a minimal gain on the play. Riddick eschews that in favor of heading back into traffic up the middle because he knows that’s where the percentages lie. He won’t bust this for a touchdown, but he also won’t be tackled for no gain.
Of course, I’m not saying that because of this one run, Riddick will prove to be all the Lions need at the running back position and a bell cow they can ride all season. Detroit will likely sign another running back, and Riddick will not become a one-man backfield. What it does show, though, is that he has the natural instincts and ability to run between the tackles and be productive on the ground, as well as through the air as a receiver. The loss of Abdullah is a blow to the Lions, but it allows them to give Riddick the ball more often and let him prove that he can be more than just the receiving option they have pegged him as so far in his career.